Author: Sophia Solomon, PhD candidate, The department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
On November 2020, members of the Knesset’s (Israeli parliament) Security and Foreign Relations Committee engaged in a heated debate, discussing one of the most disputed issues in an already-divided Israeli society : can Jewish terror attacks in fact be legally compared to Palestinian jihadist terrorism? Alongside national security considerations, judicial power and questions of challenging state’s monopoly on violence, the answer, in part, lies in internal political developments presenting radicalization of religious right-wing extremists, expressed in the use of the term “Tag Mechir” (Price-tag).
Tag Mechir entered use as a socio-political term as early as 2008 among Jewish youth settlers who used it during protests, aimed to divert security forces attention from evacuating illegal outposts in the west bank. Eventually this evolved into independent actions of vandalism (graffiti, arson, etc.) against Palestinian of the area. These acts became acceptable among extreme right-wing religious Zionist settlers, due to what they refer as the Israeli authorities’ “lack of power” to stop terror attacks upon Jewish population.
Attacks on Palestinian property have expanded to Israeli-Arab villages within Israel such as in the Galilee. They have even been performed against Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers and military bases. Some of the attacks performed by individual or small groups of youth settlers are well marked in public collective memory. For example, the burning of a mosque in Aqaba, named by Israeli President Rivlin a conclusive terror attack, or the attack against IDF which resulted in the injury of six Border Policemen during demolition of illegal settlers’ building.
Israeli Security Authority (ISA) had revealed dozens of cases of Jewish terror actions and pointed out an increase on hate crimes against Palestinians, first treating it officially in 2014 as a phenomenon named Tag Mechir. In parallel, Israeli Security Cabinet authorized the Ministry of Defense to classify violent groups as “illegal associations”, and so the government formed a new police unit designated specifically to investigate Tag Mechir crimes both in Israel and the West Bank.
Tag Mechir on Israeli police car. Source and Credit: Israeli police spokesman, Israel Hayom
Security authorities were licensed to collect information on and seize group members. Unfortunately, these measures taken by state’s institutions did not prevent the future de-facto radicalization of the acts in years to come. Tag Mechir actions arrived to a grim peak on July 31st 2015 at Duma Palestinian village, when two young settlers threw Molotov cocktails on a private house, taking the lives of three family members including an 18 months old child. Although it was considered a turning point from a state, public and civic society organizations point of view, 2018 was listed as a year of increasing Tag Mechir crimes in the West Bank, delivering three times more violent Jewish nationalists’ attacks than the year before, including sabotage of houses, price-tag graffities, tree-clearing and more. Tag mechir has become an ideology, clearly opposed to state control over the mechanisms of violence.
The term has taken on great importance in Israel’s heterogeneous society. For its perpetuators and supporters, Tag Mechir actions are perceived as a badge of honor, symbolizing the ethno-nationalistic ideology of radical religious right-wing followers, who promote violent retribution attacks upon Arab and\or Muslim population as an answer to Palestinian jihadist terrorism. It is not being treated as terrorism.
In the eyes of liberal rule, focusing on human rights and non-violent democratic state, it is considered a notorious label. They believe that individual nationalism-based violent actions present a profound threat to the state’s law and institutions. In that sense, Tag Mechir also undermines the attempts of maintaining the fragile social fabric between Israel’s Arab minority and Jewish majority, a facet of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tag Mechir can be subjected to multiple interpretations. It can be treated as a social movement phenomenon, since it constitutes a progressive form of modern home-terror, combining religious fundamentalism with ethno-nationalist exclusion against Arabs, Muslims and especially Palestinians (but mainly does not differ between the three). Thus, Tag Mechir tries to re-establish a new social order drawing a narrative link between settling the biblical ‘land of our fathers’ and the blood sacrifice of Jewish casualties from Jihadist terror.
But Tag Mechir also holds an instrumental meaning. Some call it a trademark, a political tool being used by the individuals that are part of a self-power movement, to send a message to the authorities and offended populations. Another important observation is that today, more than a decade after its creation through acts of vandalism or physical harm, Tag Mechir has become a legal term that holds repercussions to its executers, as Israeli supreme court rule in 2020 determined that involvement in acts of price-tag should be legally treated as terror attacks.
“Death to the Arabs”. Source and Credit: Eiad Hadad, B’tselem
Statistically it is true that there is no comparison between 2500 Palestinian terror acts and 300 Jewish nationalists’ attacks, as suggested by some members of the house. The political environment of Israel includes many who oppose accepting Tag Mechir as a terror action, leaning on ‘Jewish right’ to avenge casualties of terror actions.
But despite its ambivalent impact on Israeli politics, Tag Mechir has already transformed the parameters of debate on terrorism in the Middle East. Furthermore, debates about its merits have reinforced splits within Israeli society.
Much of the discussion recalls America’s splits over the Capitol Hill attack in Washington DC. That was also perpetuated by individual extremists that gathered as a collective and performed horrific violent ‘retributive acts’ against what they considered as the theft of the elections, covered with American flags, presenting a process of nationalist radicalization. It likewise caused the death of civilians. Together, these cases are contributing to growing awareness of the risks of ethnic and right-wing nationalism.