Another American victim of Palestinian terrorism was buried this week. Does it matter that he was an American? Why should the American government, or American Jews, take any more interest in the latest victim than in any other victims?
Richard Lakin, a 76-year-old former Connecticut school principal, died Oct. 26 of wounds he suffered in a recent Palestinian terrorist attack in Jerusalem. He was the 137th American citizen murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the 1960s.
Since he was an American citizen, Lakin’s death will merit a brief mention in many American newspapers, and newspapers in his hometown will give more extensive coverage.
That’s the first reason the American identity of these victims matters. If not for the sense that “he was one of us,” these terror victims would be completely forgotten. Newspapers have limited space. They choose the stories they will cover based primarily on what they think will interest their readers. They believe that Americans will care more about other Americans than about other victims, and that residents of Connecticut will be more interested in what happens to other residents of their state than residents of other states. And that’s a reasonable assumption, whether we like it or not.
Richard Lakin was Jewish. As a result, American Jews will take a particular interest in what happened to him. And they should. The organized American Jewish community actively encourages Jews to visit Israel. The community, as my family does through the Alisa Flatow Memorial Scholarship Fund, also supports “study abroad” programs at Israeli schools, seminaries, and universities in order to attract American Jewish college students to study there for a semester or a year. And a number of Jewish organizations provide financial assistance and other incentives to American Jews to move to Israel.
These American Jewish initiatives to send Jews to Israel are an expression of the strength and warmth of the ties that bind Israel and the Diaspora. We derive inspiration and spiritual sustenance from our relationship with the Jewish state. We want our children to share in that. And if we are going to encourage American Jews to go to Israel, then we have a special obligation to care, and to act, if any of those Jews are harmed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel.
Moreover, American Jews have the ability to make a difference. Our relationship with the White House and Congress, our electoral clout as a community, and our skills at reaching out to the wider public enable us to influence America’s policy on these issues.
The American public should care, too. The people of the United States have always had a special attachment to Israel, because the Jewish state shares our democratic, humanitarian, and Judeo-Christian values. Americans who visit or even live in Israel are putting into practice the heartfelt sentiments of millions of their fellow American citizens.
American taxpayers should care for another reason: the U.S. government sends $500 million of their tax dollars to the Palestinian Authority (PA) every year. So the public has a right to expect the government to intervene when PA employees or PA-incited terrorists murder our citizens, or when the PA names streets, parks, and soccer teams after murderers of Americans.
The American government, too, has a special obligation with regard to American victims of Palestinian terrorism.
First, there is a legal obligation. American citizens, whether they are visiting, studying, or living abroad, are still American citizens. They pay taxes just like the rest of us, and in return the U.S. government has a legal responsibility to act when they are harmed by terrorists abroad just as it would have an obligation to act if they are harmed by terrorists within the U.S.
Second, the U.S. government has a strategic obligation to act. Fighting Palestinian terrorism must be part of America’s global war on terror. Bringing Palestinian killers of Americans to trial in the U.S. would contribute significantly to anti-terror efforts, by making it clear to Palestinian terrorists that they could face the death penalty, or at least life in prison with no hope of release in a prisoner exchange—something that is not the case when they kill Israelis.
So, yes, it is relevant that Richard Lakin was an American. It’s not just a question of narrow national pride, or ethnic solidarity, or curiosity. For important moral, legal, and strategic reasons, the American victims of Palestinian terrorism should matter to American Jews, to the American public, and to the American government.