Malcolm Hoenlein was landing in Israel Monday night aboard an El Al flight as news of the murders of the three kidnapped yeshiva students was announced.
“As I landed you could hear phones going off,” said Hoenlein, who is executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “And then you could hear moans throughout the plane — almost as if it was orchestrated. People were breaking down — men and women. It went like a wave through the plane. And you could hear davening [praying] and sighing. And you saw tears in people’s eyes as you walked off the plane.
“Everywhere in the airport people were sad; they all identified with the families and were angry. This captured the attention of the nation. People identified so totally with them — and the courage of their families so inspired the people.”
Asked what he expected Israel to do in response, Hoenlein replied: “This should occasion not only a strong response to this particular act but a determined effort to root out sources of terror and those that inspire, abet and tolerate it.”
He stressed that this “is not Israel’s battle alone.”
“We’ve seen Israel battle this war for 50 years, but now it is everybody’s war … and it is a test for the Palestinian leadership to see what it will do. The Israeli government has taken concerted measures to disrupt the Hamas infrastructure that runs deep in West Bank, and Mr. Abbas should thank Israel for what it did to save his regime.
“It is now up to the generals and [government leaders] to decide when and what to do, but that it must be done is clear. It can’t be that pressure from the outside says you can’t overreact.”
Hoenlein stressed that many nations are feeling the impact of terror groups.
“Let’s see how the hundreds of terrorists coming back to European countries from Syria react. You can’t defeat terrorism with half measures. … No country today is immune to it because this cancer has been allowed to spread and grow in so many countries. We are seeing more and more of the Middle East turned over to extremist elements.”
Shaul Shay, former deputy head of the Israel National Security Council, told an Israel Project conference call with reporters that he would expect Israel to respond militarily to the murder of the three abducted Israeli teens.
“If this murder was done by Hamas activists, it is the responsibility of Hamas as an organization,” he said. “It is not important if an order was given by one or another Hamas leader. Hamas as a terrorist entity has to pay for it and be deterred from conducting such crimes in the future.”
Asked what he would now expect to hear from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Shay said Abbas is “in a very delicate situation. … On the one hand I see that we may expect that Abu Mazen [Abbas’ nom de guerre] will speak about this terrible assassination and will condemn it.
“If it was done by Hamas, Hamas is now a partner of Abu Mazen’s in his reconciliation government, and how to breach over this impossible situation is not an easy task.”
Shay pointed out that Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas formed another unity government in June 2006 — “at the time Hamas kidnapped [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit.”
“So I can’t say it [kidnappings of Israelis] was not unexpected — it had to be taken into account,” he added.