Since the start of 2023, Israel has suffered a wave of deadly terrorist attacks. As Israelis mourn and express their rage, many are asking the obvious questions. Why now? What leads to these waves of terror? Some in the media have taken to blaming the new Netanyahu government. As they see it, the existence of a nationalist, right-wing government provokes Israel’s enemies, who would be much more peaceful and less murderous were Yair Lapid sitting in the Prime Minister’s seat.
While there are no doubt numerous causes of the timing of the current wave of terror, I’d like to suggest a significant factor that is being ignored. Simply put, people respond to incentives. Allow me to explain.
It is well known that for decades the Palestinian Authority has provided generous lifetime stipends to the families of the perpetrators of deadly attacks against both Israelis as well as non-Israeli visitors to the Jewish state. This “pay-to-slay” program provides a significant incentive to carry out terrorist attacks. And the scope of this murder-incentive program is significant. According to the US State Department, in 2019 alone the Palestinian Authority distributed over $340 million to terrorist murderers and their families.
Which leads us back to the question, “Why now?”
In March 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the Taylor Force Act (TFA). Taylor Force, a US citizen and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was murdered in Jaffa by a terrorist in 2016. He was visiting Israel as a tourist on a school-sponsored trip with Vanderbilt University. The law that bears Force’s name stipulates that the US must withhold all economic aid to the Palestinian Authority so long as the policy of financially rewarding terrorist murderers and their families persists.
In August 2018, in the first round of enforcement, the US cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. Eventually, in February 2019, the US government announced that, as per the TFA, it was ceasing all aid to the PA. In the wake of this decision, something amazing happened. Terrorism declined. Less Israelis were being murdered.
In the 5-year period, 2014-2018, 100 Israelis (and visitors to Israel) were murdered in Israel by terrorists; an average of 20 per year, with a low of 14 in 2018, the year of the passing the TFA. In 2019, the first year of TFA enforcement, the number of murder victims fell to 11. In 2020 it fell further to 3.
But it’s not only about the money. Even before the passage of the TFA in 2018, terrorist murders in Israel were on the decline ever since Donald Trump took office. Of the 5-year period 2014-2018 cited above, the 2 lowest annual numbers of victims were 2017 and 2018. Simply put, Donald Trump’s policies and statements sent a clear message to the enemies of Israel that under his administration, terrorism would not be rewarded.
Shortly after taking office, on March 26, 2021, the Biden administration announced that it would be sending $75 million to the Palestinian Authority to be used in part to regain the “trust and goodwill” of the Palestinians in the wake of the Trump cuts in aid. The State Department made it known at that time that this payment was only the beginning of a renewed pledge to support the PA.
What happened next should not surprise anyone. 2021 saw 17 Israelis murdered by Arab terrorists, the highest number since 2015. It is worth noting that all of these murders took place after the renewal of American financial aid at the end of March, a full quarter into the year. Not surprisingly, 2022 saw yet another rise in terror victims with 31 people losing their lives to terrorist murderers. And in the first two months of 2023, 14 people have already been murdered, as of this writing.
All this leads one to wonder how this is all happening. After all, the Taylor Force Act is not merely some Trump-era policy or presidential executive order that can be reversed by the next administration. The TFA is law, passed by both houses and signed by the president. What this means, quite plainly, is that the US government under Joe Biden is in violation of the law. And yet, as of this writing, the Biden administration has given over $1 billion to the Palestinian Authority.
I will say this plainly. The current US administration, through its criminal violation of US law is empowering and incentivizing the murder of Israeli citizens. The Biden administration is indirectly, yet knowingly, funding the families of terrorist murderers.
In a few days, the Jewish people worldwide will once again celebrate the festival of Purim. Purim recalls the triumph of the Jews over our genocidal enemies as told in the book of Esther. At a critical moment in that story, Mordecai, while persuading Esther to speak to the king on behalf of her people said,
“If you remain silent at a time like this, relief and rescue shall come to the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your family will be lost.” – Esther 4:14
The message is as true now as it was then. The Jewish people will prevail. We have been through all manner of persecutions and hatreds spanning thousands of years. It may be painful, but Israel will continue to live and thrive. In the words of Mordecai, “rescue shall come to the Jews from elsewhere.” Of that, we have no doubt.
And just as in the Purim story which saw Haman and his sons hanging from the gallows, history has not been kind to those who stand against the Jewish people. By enabling the financial incentive to the murder of Israelis, the Biden administration is skating on thin ice. Is America on our side or Haman’s?
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki serves as Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and he is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast.