36 newspapers and largely tune out alternate opinions. What is important, they say, is Zionism and Judaism— two concepts that cannot be separated. Young people especially seem to feel alienated by the Israeli elite, which embraces Western values of liberalism and globalization when what they seek is separatism and a return to some sort of biblical-era glory. The more that people feel alienated and distanced from the mainstream, the shorter the path is to committing violence. In the aftermath of the Rabin assassination, the far right was lambasted by the left for allegedly creating an atmosphere of incitement that facilitated the killing of the prime minister. Feeling demonized by Israeli society has exacerbated the feeling of being outsiders. Feeling themselves outcasts has played a role in radicalizing the right. It is an alienation and anger that can be easily turned to justification for carrying out violence. Professor Hillel Weiss, a Hebrew literature expert, is a member of the Sanhedrin and among those who signed the recent religious judgment condemning General Naveh as an informer, enacting the ancient and potentially grave sentence of “Din Moser.” For his role, he has repeatedly been summoned by the police for questioning. He claims to actually enjoy the process of being investigated. “It’s like a chess game … a ping pong between the investigator and the one being questioned. It’s like an adventure. My stance is clear. There are felonies I could be charged with like incitement and being threatening but I stand behind what I say. I even told the police detective questioning me that he should resign because he is representing an evil authority, a state that is persecuting Jews.” He downplayed the potential for violence that could follow the passing of such a powerful judgment against Naveh—himself a religious Jew. He said the judgment was a form of civil disobedience, not a call to arms. But Chezi Kalow, former head of Shin Bet’s Jewish desk, sees grave danger in the order of “Din Moser” issued by Weiss and his colleagues. “In my eyes it’s very serious, a return of what happened with Rabin,” he said. Moderate rabbis are also concerned by the ruling. They say that, in private, rabbis and yeshiva heads consider the judgment nonsense, but none of them have condemned it publicly. The order against Naveh is part of an increasingly violent discourse. Itamar Ben-Gvir, an activist in the late Rabbi Kahane’s “Kach” movement until it was banned and today a wellknown figure in the Israeli extremist scene, said he was slowly but powerfully drawn to a radical ideology as a teenage boy. He came from a secular family in a well-to-do Jerusalem suburb, but during the first Intifada he became increasingly interested in politics. He read the daily headlines about Israeli-Palestinian clashes and started asking questions. “I started getting involved, asking ‘what will happen now?’ You see one
attack and then another and ask how this will be solved.” In the search for answers he found his way to the Temple Mount Faithful, a group that seeks to restore the Temple in Jerusalem. In the early 1980s, a Jewish underground movement plotted to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, an act that would have had the potential to start a war with Muslim states. “I told myself I would be active, but not join Kach. I thought they were crazy but, slowly, I realized they were not crazy. That their ideology is based on Torah and a love for Israel and that the logic was very accessible,” said Ben-Gvir. He said he found Rabbi Kahane’s preaching of a doomsday scenario where Arabs would outnumber Jews in Israel was plausible and that they needed to be expelled from the country before that could happen. “We can either say let’s go back to Auschwitz … or we can build a real Jewish state, but we cannot build a state with two nations,” he said. “It’s either us or them.”
TRIGGERS In the case of Israeli Jewish extremists, the trigger that can push an individual or group towards violence seems to take two main forms: revenge for attacks against fellow Jews or an effort to affect change (specifically to prevent government actions deemed disastrous for the future of the Jewish people). When Jewish radicals feel threatened by the political process, it puts the entire community under severe pressure, giving them the feeling that they are no longer helping shape history. That sense of dire emergency helps justify drastic measures. The backdrop of the Diaspora, viewed by radicals as a long period of oppression and a time when Jews were not in control of their own fate, always feeds into present day agendas and desires for revenge. Every attack by a Palestinian contributes to the notion that they are present-day versions of the Nazis or the biblical Amalek, groups bent on Israel’s destruction. Now that there is a state of Israel, the feeling is that it should be defended—even if that means taking preemptive violent measures. There is also a desire to differentiate oneself from the image of the weak, nonviolent Jew of the Diaspora. Just as the early Zionists championed the idea of the muscular, proactive “New Jew,” so the Jewish extremists cast themselves as modern-day heirs to those original pioneers. They present themselves to the local Palestinian population as rugged, gun-toting cowboy types with itchy trigger fingers and not to be provoked.11 Key to understanding the Israeli psyche, and, in turn, the more radical fringes of the society it has produced is the long shadow cast by the trauma of the
Dr. Idit Zertal (author and historian) interviewed by author (February 2007).
Published on Jul 23, 2010