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Saturday, July 26, 2014

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Gun culture in Israel, U.S. not comparable

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Wayne LaPierre, the head of the U.S.-based National Rifle Association, is without doubt an expert on America’s gun-crazed culture, to which he makes his own singular contribution. He’s no expert at all, however, on Israeli society, despite his effort to invoke Israel in order to help justify his interpretation of the American “right to bear arms” in the aftermath of the horrific massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., public school on Dec. 14.

On NBC’s Dec. 24 Meet the Press show, LaPierre rejected calls for tighter gun controls and instead backed up his proposal to have armed guards at all U.S. schools by, among other things, claiming that Israel provides a model for how this is effectively achieved. “Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: they said, ‘We’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then,’” he said.

LaPierre’s ignorance is riveting. He’s utterly mistaken about Israel, the way that country deals with its security issues and its attitude towards guns.

Reporting from Jerusalem for the New York Daily News, Matthew Kalman wrote: “When it comes to Israel and school shootings, Wayne LaPierre doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Israeli security experts said.”

According to these experts, such shootings are very rare in Israel – two in the past four decades – and have resulted from terror attacks, not “crazed gunmen.” But it’s the army and security services that Israel relies upon to deal with terror attacks, not armed citizens or even armed guards.

Kalman drew attention to Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who remarked that the situation in Israel was “fundamentally different” from what Americans face. “We didn’t have a series of school shootings, and they had nothing to do with the issue at hand in the United States. We had to deal with terrorism,” Palmor said. “What removed the danger was not the armed guards but an overall anti-terror policy and anti-terror operations which brought street terrorism down to nearly zero over a number of years.”

Palmor added: “It would be better not to drag Israel into what is an internal American discussion.”

LaPierre might also be surprised to learn that, as Kalman observed, “In recent years, restrictions on gun ownership in Israel have been tightened, not relaxed… Despite having a standing army of more than 100,000 and police and security guards carrying guns on the street, Israel has strict firearms licensing and supervision.”

The Jerusalem office of the Associated Press put this issue in perspective in a story carried by The Times of Israel (Dec. 24): “Though military service in Israel is compulsory, routine familiarity with weapons does not carry over into civilian life. Israel has far fewer private weapons per capita than the U.S., and while there have been gangster shootouts on the streets from time to time, gun rampages outside the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are unheard of.”

• • •

On a completely different subject – some small but positive moves in Turkey-Israel relations have recently caught the eye of Reuters:

• In November, Israel and Turkey entered talks to end their diplomatic crisis stemming from the May 2010 Mavi Mamara incident. This is occurring despite the fact that Turkey is still demanding a formal apology from Israel for the deaths of nine Turks killed by Israeli commandos trying to prevent the ship from running Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

• Around the same time, Turkey agreed to purchase airborne warning and control systems for its spy planes from a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries.

• Late last month, Turkey dropped its previous objections to Israel’s participation in non-military NATO activities in 2013. According to Israeli analysts, Turkey fears growing instability from Iran and Syria – especially the possibility that Syria could use its chemical weapons – and to this degree, shares regional security concerns with Israel.

Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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