Jewish/Zionist Terrorism: A Continuing Threat to Peace
ALLAN C. BROWNFELD
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist, associate editor of The Lincoln Review and the editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism. He is a contributing editor to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and is a former staff member of the US Senate Internal Security Subcommittee.
ll too often, when terrorism in the Middle East is discussed, it is that perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists and Palestinian groups unwilling to achieve some form of reconciliation with Israel. That such terrorism has been a dangerous and often deadly phenomenon is, of course, clear to all. It remains a serious threat, not only to Israel but also to the United States, other Western targets and Arab governments which some Islamic groups bitterly oppose and seek to overthrow.
Often under-reported, and also a serious threat to the prospects of peace in the Middle East, is Jewish/Zionist terrorism, which has a long but less well-known history.
The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel on 4 November 1995 by an ultra-Orthodox religious zealot, Yigal Amir, brought the world of Israel’s religious extremists under public scrutiny. The assassin was not a lone psychotic gunman, but a young man nurtured within Israel’s far-right religious institutions. After the murder, he was hailed as a hero by many, not only in Israel but also by kindred spirits in the United States.
Two weeks before the assassination, Victor Cygielman, Tel Aviv correspondent of the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, wrote an article describing the visceral hostility towards Rabin among certain groups of Israeli Jews. He told of a ceremony in which religious fundamentalists had stood outside Rabin’s house on the eve of Yom Kippur and intoned the mystical Pulsa da-nura, a kabbalistic curse of death. He wrote of rabbis who invoked against Rabin the talmudic concept of din rodef, the death sentence pronounced on a Jewish traitor. Cygielman also cited the handbill passed out at a mass demonstration in Jerusalem on 5 October 1995 showing Rabin in an SS uniform. “The stage was set for the murder of the prime minister,” he said. Technical problems delayed the publication of Cygielman’s piece until Thursday, 2 November, just two days before Rabin’s assassination.1
The Divine Promise
In their study of the Rabin assassination, Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman note that Yigal Amir believes
there is only one guideline for fixing the borders of the Land of Israel: the Divine Promise made to the Patriarch Abraham: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:17). Today these borders embrace most of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iraq … zealots read this passage as God’s Will, and God’s Will must be obeyed, whatever the cost. No mortal has the right to settle for borders any narrower than these. Thus negotiating a peace settlement with Israel’s neighbors is unthinkable.2
Among those activists Amir holds in high esteem is Baruch Goldstein, the physician from the settlement of Kiryat Arba adjoining Hebron, who gunned down twenty-nine Palestinians at morning prayer in the Cave of the Patriarchs on 25 February 1994. Among the ideologues Amir especially admires is Noam Livnat of the Od Yosef Chai (Joseph Still Lives) religious school or yeshiva in Nablus. The yeshiva’s patron, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, repeatedly expressed a doctrine of racism, declaring that “Jewish blood and Gentile blood are not the same”. He defended the act of one of the yeshiva’s students who opened fire indiscriminately on Arab labourers standing alongside a highway near Tel Aviv in 1993 and he subsequently lauded Baruch Goldstein for massacring Arabs in Hebron. Ginzburg explains that he differentiates between the murder of a Gentile and that of a Jew because the Torah places a “light prohibition” on the former and a “grave” one on the latter.
The case of Goldstein highlights the connection between Jewish extremism in the United States and in Israel. Goldstein, a militant Zionist from New York, had been a member of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), founded in May 1968 in New York City by the late Meir Kahane, who urged his followers to emigrate to Israel and called for the removal of all Arabs from the West Bank. After the mass murder at Hebron, Goldstein was viewed as a hero by many of the Israeli settlers. At his funeral, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin declared that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail”. Shmuel Hacohen, a teacher in a Jerusalem college, said: “Baruch Goldstein was the greatest Jew alive, not in one way but in every way … There are no innocent Arabs here … He was no crazy … Killing isn’t nice, but sometimes it is necessary.”
The JDL’s stated goal was to combat anti-Semitism and to support agencies of government charged with the responsibility for maintaining law and order. Its street patrols soon gave way to violence and vandalism. By January 1972, the JDL chose to attack eighty-three-year-old Jewish impresario Sol Hurok, who was completing preparations for the première of a Russian balalaika troupe. They bombed Hurok’s building in mid-town Manhattan and Iris Kones, a twenty-seven-year-old Jewish woman who worked in accounting, was killed.
The ostensible aim of the JDL campaign was to call attention to the 2.1 million Jews living in the Soviet Union. Author Donald Neff notes that
Unknown to the public was the fact that the anti-Soviet actions were being orchestrated by several militant Israelis, including the Mossad spy agency; Yitzhak Shamir, later Israel’s prime minister, and Guelah Cohen, a leader of the extremist Tehiya Party and member of the Knesset. The Israelis persuaded Kahane to wage the anti-Soviet campaign. The goal was to strain U.S.-Soviet relations, calculating Moscow would ease the strain by allowing increased numbers of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel.3
A 1985 Federal Bureau of Investigation study of terrorist acts in the United States since 1981 found eighteen incidents initiated by Jews, fifteen of which were by the JDL. In a 1986 study of domestic terrorism, the US Department of Energy concluded: “For more than a decade, the JDL has been one of the most active terrorist groups in the United States … Since 1968, JDL operations have killed 7 persons and wounded at least 22.”
In 1985, Alex Odeh, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee (ADC) in Santa Ana, California, was killed by a bomb planted at his office. Donald Neff writes that
Odeh had appeared the previous night on a television show and called Yasser Arafat “a man of peace.” The JDL praised the bombing but denied involvement, its usual practice in such incidents. One of the suspects was Robert Manning … a JDL member. He and his wife, Rochelle, moved to Israel, where he joined the Israel Defense Forces. F.B.I. agents said Manning and others were also suspected of being involved in a year-long series of violent incidents in 1985 … Israeli police finally arrested the Mannings on March 24, 1991. Although strongly suspected in the Odeh murder, they were charged in a separate suit involving the 1980 letter-bomb murder of California secretary Patricia Wilkerson … Robert Manning was eventually extradited to the U.S. on July 18, 1993, and was found guilty on October 14, 1993 … He was sentenced to life in prison.4
The Influence of Kahane
Meir Kahane moved to Israel in 1971 and by 1984 was popular enough to win a seat in the Knesset under the banner of his Kach Party. He developed legislation for “The Prevention of Assimilation between Jews and Non-Jews and for the Sanctity of the Jewish People”. Among the provisions it demanded were separate beaches for Jews and non-Jews and an end to mixed summer camps and community centres. Kahane’s legislation declared that “Jews are forbidden to marry non-Jews … mixed marriages will not be recognized even if recognized in the countries in which they were held … Jews are forbidden to have sexual relations of any sort with non-Jews … Transgressors will be punished with two years’ imprisonment.”
A member of the Knesset from the Likud Party, Michael Eitan, likened Kahane’s proposed legislation to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws enacted in Nazi Germany on 15 September 1935, the “Reich Citizenship Law” and the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour”.
In his study of Israeli fratricidal violence, Ehud Sprinzak of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem describes how Kahane celebrated winning his Knesset seat in 1984:
A day after the elections, Kahane and his supporters held a victory parade to Old Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Marching defiantly through the Arab section of the Old City, Kahane’s followers smashed through the market, overturning vegetable stalls, attacking bystanders … and telling frightened residents that the end of their stay in the Holy Land was near.5
A new Jewish subculture of violence was rapidly growing in Israel. On 27 April 1984, another event shook the country. A plot was uncovered to blow up five buses full of Arab passengers during the rush hour. Within days, twenty-seven suspected members of an anti-Arab terrorist group were arrested. Soon it was learned that suspects had been responsible for an unsolved 1980 terror bombing in which two West Bank Arab mayors were crippled and three others saved only because of a last-minute failure to booby-trap their cars. Several members of the group also admitted responsibility for numerous acts of anti-Arab terrorism, including a 1983 attack on the Islamic College in Hebron that killed three students and wounded thirty-three.6
The emergence of the militant Jewish settler movement Gush Emunim on the occupied West Bank slowly revealed a new philosophy of messianism and fundamentalism which fuelled much of the terror. Traditionally, Jews believed that the messiah could come only through the single meta-historical appearance of an individual redeemer. Now, holy and redemptive status was given to the secular state of Israel. Israel’s victory in the 1967 June war led many to believe they were living in a messianic age. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook became a leader of the fundamentalist movement. He defined the state of Israel as the Halakhic (Jewish law) Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Israel as the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Every Jew living in Israel was holy.
Ehud Sprinzak explains that “the single most important conclusion of the new theology had to do with Eretz Israel, the land of Israel”:
The land—every grain of its soil—was declared holy in a fundamental sense. The conquered territories of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] had become inalienable and nonnegotiable, not as a result of political or security concern but because God had promised them to Abraham four thousand years earlier, and because the identity of the nation was shaped by this promise. Redemption could take place only in the context of greater Eretz Israel, and territorial withdrawal meant forfeiting redemption.7
The most extreme reaction to the September 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt can be seen in the establishment of the “Jewish underground”. Originally, it was considered an ad hoc terror team whose purpose was to avenge terrorism by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. But the chief item on its initial agenda was blowing up what it called “the abomination”—Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest shrines and believed to be located almost exactly on the site of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed nearly two thousand years ago.
The idea of blowing up the Dome of the Rock was raised by two fundamentalist religious Zionists, Yeshua Ben Shoshan and Yehuda Etzion. They sought the restoration of the biblical Kingdom of Israel and the building of the Third Temple, both these goals necessitating destruction of the Dome of the Rock. In 1980, Etzion convened a secret meeting at which the operation was spelled out in great detail. The group had the necessary technical expertise to carry out their plan. But they felt obliged to suspend it because they could not find a rabbi willing to bless their venture. It was only after the arrest in 1984 of Etzion and other Jewish underground members in connection with the attempt to blow up the five Arab buses that the Dome of the Rock plot was discovered. Had it been effected, the consequences would have been catastrophic—at the very least, a war between Israel and a Muslim world united in outrage, with the additional danger of a US–Soviet nuclear confrontation as the superpowers backed their respective clients in the Middle East conflict.
Hatred of Gentiles
Contempt for non-Jews is inherent in the Zionist terrorist mindset, as evinced by Yehuda Etzion: “For the Gentiles, life is mainly a life of existence, while ours is a life of destiny, the life of a kingdom of priests and a holy people. We exist in the world in order to actualize destiny.”8
With contempt goes hostility. Rabbi Kahane openly sought revenge against Gentiles for centuries of anti-Semitic persecution:
A Jewish fist in the face of an astonished Gentile world that had not seen it for two millennia, this is Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the name of God). Jewish dominion over the Christian holy places while the Church that sucked our blood vomits its rage and frustration. This is Kiddush Hashem. A Jewish Air Force that is better than any other and that forces a Lebanese airliner down so that we can imprison murderers of Jews rather than having to repeat the centuries-old pattern of begging the Gentile world to do it for us. This is Kiddush Hashem.9
Kahane concluded that “Jewish violence in defense of Jewish interests is never bad”. He urged the expulsion of Israel’s Arab citizens and of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Baruch Goldstein was a personal student of Kahane, in 1983 being placed by him as a third candidate on Kach’s Knesset list. After the Oslo Accords, which he perceived as a disaster for Israel, Goldstein came to believe that only an extreme act of Kiddush Hashem could return the Jewish state to the path of its messianic destiny.10 The result was the Hebron massacre.
In what is perhaps the landmark example of Jewish terrorism in Israel, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, all of the various ultra-nationalist elements and philosophies came into play. According to Sprinzak, Rabin’s assassination did not take place in a vacuum. Although Amir acted alone, his act should be viewed as the culmination of a process of delegitimation of the Israeli government by Israel’s ultra-nationalists. The 1993 Oslo Accords triggered the renewed radicalisation of the right, but “the final countdown to the assassination had begun in the aftermath of the 1994 Hebron massacre”.11
When Rabin held office, the ultra-Orthodox weekly Hashavna (“The Week”) was used by its publisher Asher Zuckerman to wage a vicious crusade against the prime minister. The magazine regularly called Rabin “a Kapo”, “an anti-Semite” and “a pathological liar”. The weekly, which is read by close to 20 per cent of the ultra-Orthodox community, published a symposium on the question of whether Rabin deserved to die and on the appropriate means of executing him. By the critical summer of 1995, Hashavna went so far as to charge that Rabin and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, were “leading the state and its citizens to annihilation and must be placed before a firing squad”.12
A group of Orthodox rabbis gave religious sanction to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. These rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, revived two obsolete concepts—din rodef (the duty to kill a Jew who imperils the life and property of another Jew) and din moser (the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn in another Jew to non-Jewish authorities). By relinquishing rule over parts of the biblical Land of Israel to the Palestinian authorities, these rabbis argued, the head of the Israeli government had become a moser (informer, collaborator with Gentiles). They thus effectively declared Rabin a legitimate target for Jewish extremists.13
In a meeting with Samuel Hollander, Israel’s Orthodox cabinet secretary who visited New York over the High Holy Days in 1995, a group of rabbis told the stunned official that his boss was a moser and rodef. Rabbi Abraham Hecht, the head of New York City’s large Sharei Zion synagogue, did not hesitate to say in public what many of his colleagues had been saying privately. In a 9 October 1995 interview with New York magazine, he maintained, “Rabin is not a Jew any longer … [A]ccording to Jewish law, any one person … who wilfully, consciously, intentionally hands over human bodies or human property or the human wealth of the Jewish people to an alien people is guilty of the sin for which the penalty is death. And according to Maimonides … it says very clearly, if a man kills him, he has done a good deed.
In 1995, the Purim holiday was an occasion for a special radical right ceremony, the anniversary of the Hebron massacre and the death of Goldstein. A Goldstein cult had emerged and his memory became the rallying point of the disbanded Kahane movement. A 550-page edited memorial was published in March 1995, the Hebrew title of which translates as Baruch, the Man: A Memorial Volume for Dr Baruch Goldstein, the Saint. May God Avenge His Blood. Edited by Michael Ben Horin, a Golan settler, the major theme of the book was conceived by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, head of the radical Tomb of Yoseph yeshiva in Nablus. Ginzburg made headlines in 1988 by providing Halakhic support for several of his students who had unilaterally shot Palestinian civilians. It was fully legitimate, he declared, to kill non-combatant Palestinians. Goldstein, he believed, was not a criminal and mass murderer but a man of piety and deep religious conviction. Ginzburg wrote: “About the value of Israel’s life, it simply seems that the life of Israel is worth more than the life of the Gentile and even if the Gentile does not intend to hurt Israel it is permissible to hurt him in order to save Israel.” He called the Hebron massacre “a shining moment”.14
Amir, Rabin’s assassin, avidly read Baruch Hagever. He explained the assassination to his interrogators by saying that, “If not for a Halakhic ruling of din rodef, made against Rabin by a few rabbis I knew about, it would have been very difficult for me to murder. Such a murder must be backed up. If I did not get the backing and I had not been representing many more people, I would not have acted.”15
A Long Tradition
Zionist terrorism is hardly a new phenomenon. The history of pre-Israel Palestine gives ample evidence of the terrorist mindset of many Zionist activists, a mindset that produced acts of violence which took the lives of fellow Jews, Arabs and others who involved themselves in the political debates over the creation of Israel. Consider some of the major examples:
· In 1933, Chaim Arlosoroff, a young Labour politician seemingly destined to be the first prime minister of the future Jewish state, was shot dead while walking on Tel Aviv beach. His murder came at the height of a campaign of personal denunciation conducted by a small group of right-wing Zionists known as B’rith Habirionim (“Covenant of Terrorists”: the original “Habirionim” had been vigilantes who targeted collaborators during the Jewish revolt against ancient Rome). Arlosoroff attracted the wrath of the extreme right because of his attempts to negotiate with Nazi Germany freedom for wealthy German Jews to leave with their money provided they used it to buy German goods and bring them to Palestine. The murder was never proved in court, but it blackened the image of the Revisionist movement, causing it widely to be seen as fascist and terrorist.
· During the darkest days of the Second World War, when Great Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, Lehi (Israel’s Freedom Fighters), launched in 1940 by Abraham Stern, fought the British. When all other Jewish groups in Palestine declared a cease-fire with the British and prayed that the Allied forces would survive the 1940–2 Nazi offensive, Lehi fighters planted bombs in British installations and killed British soldiers. Their leaders even sent messages of support to the Nazis and offered their co-operation in the future Nazi world order.
· On 6 November 1944, Lehi members murdered in Cairo Lord Moyne, a member of the British war cabinet who served as state minister for the Middle East. The reason for his murder? He was thought to be responsible for blocking the entrance to Palestine of Jewish refugees.
· On 22 July 1946, members of the Zionist terror group Irgun blew up Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which served as the headquarters of the British administration in Palestine. More than eighty civilians were killed, including many Jews.
· On 9 April 1948, the Irgun and Lehi launched an attack on the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin. Situated in the hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Deir Yassin was of no immediate threat to the Zionist forces. Its residents were considered passive, and its leaders had agreed with those of an adjacent Jewish neighbourhood, Givat Shaul, that each side would prevent its own people from attacking the other. It was the Muslim Sabbath when the attack by the Irgun and Lehi, with the reluctant acquiescence of the mainstream Jewish defence organisation, the Haganah, took place. All the inhabitants of the village were ordered out into a square, where they were lined up against the wall and shot. More than one hundred civilians were killed. News of the massacre spread rapidly and helped prompt a panic flight of hundreds of thousands Palestinians from their homes.
Most of the victims of the Deir Yassin massacre were women, children and older people. The men of the village were absent because they worked in Jerusalem. Irgun leader Menachem Begin issued this euphoric message to his troops after the attack: “Accept my congratulations on this splendid act of conquest … As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou hast chosen us for conquest.”
David Shipler, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times from 1979 to 1984, reports that
The Jewish fighters who planned the attack on Deir Yassin also had a larger purpose, apparently. A Jerusalem woman and her son, who gave some of the men coffee in the pre-dawn hours before their mission, recall the guerrillas’ talking excitedly of the prospect of terrifying Arabs far beyond the village of Deir Yassin so that they would run away. Perhaps this explains why the Jewish guerrillas did not bury the Arabs they had killed, but left their bodies to be seen, and why they paraded surviving prisoners, blindfolded and with hands bound, in the backs of trucks though the streets of Jerusalem, a scene still remembered with a shudder by Jews who saw it.16
· There were other massacres of Arabs. One occurred on 29 October 1956, the eve of Israel’s Suez campaign, when the army ordered all Israeli-Arab villages near the Jordanian border to be placed under a wartime curfew that was to run from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day. Any Arab on the streets would be shot. No arrests were to be made. But the order was given to Israeli border police units only at 3:30 p.m., without time to communicate it to the Arabs affected, many of whom were at work or in their fields. In Kfar Kassem, Israeli border troops took up positions at various points and slaughtered villagers as they came home, unaware that a curfew had been imposed. The troops fired into one truck carrying fourteen women and four men. Villagers were hauled out of trucks, lined up and shot. In all, forty-seven Arabs, all of them Israeli citizens, were killed during the early hours of the curfew at Kfar Kassem. Lance Corporal Shalom Ofer, deputy squad leader, ordered that all women and children be shot repeatedly until none remained alive.
There is too little understanding of the nature of the Jewish religious extremism which continues to be so much a part of Israel’s political life. In his recently published study of the similarities between terrorist groups motivated by religion, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh, Mark Juergensmeyer of the University of California reports on a conversation he had with Yoel Lerner, an activist leader who served time in prison for his part in the attempt to blow up the Dome of the Rock:
Yoel Lerner … believes in a form of Messianic Zionism. In his view the prophesied Messiah will come to earth only after the temple is rebuilt and made ready for him … the issue of the temple was not only a matter of cultural nostalgia but also one of pressing religious importance … In Lerner’s view the redemption of the whole world depends upon the actions of Jews in creating the conditions necessary for messianic salvation … He … told me that there had been a great deal of discussion in the months before Rabin’s death about the religious justification for the political assassination—or “execution,” as Lerner called it—of Jewish leaders who were felt to be dangerously irresponsible and were de facto enemies of Judaism. Thus it was “no surprise” to Lerner that someone like Yigal Amir was successful in killing Rabin. The only thing that puzzled him, he said, was that “no one had done it earlier.”17
The growth in Israel of a form of “messianic Zionism” makes control over all of the biblical Land of Israel a religious mandate. According to Rabbi Yitzhak Kook, the chief rabbi of pre-Israel Palestine, the secular state of Israel is the precursor of the religious Israel to come. Juergensmeyer points out that
This messianic Zionism was greatly enhanced by Israel’s successes in the 1967 Six-Day War … Jewish nationalists impressed with K[ook]’s theology felt strongly that history was quickly leading to the moment of divine redemption and the re-creation of the biblical state of Israel.
Kahane deviated from K[ook]’s version of messianic Zionism in that he saw nothing of religious significance in the establishment of a secular Jewish state. According to Kahane, the true creation of a religious Israel was yet to come … [H]owever, he felt that … he and his partisans could help bring about this messianic act. This is where Kahane’s notion of kiddush ha-Shem was vital: insofar as Jews were exalted and their enemies humiliated, God was glorified and the Messiah’s coming was more likely.18
Jewish extremists, according to Juergensmeyer, are convinced that their violent acts have been authorised as weapons in a “divine warfare sanctioned by God”. Goldstein’s massacre in Hebron in 1994 was thus described as a military act.
New Terrorist Threats
The Jewish Telegraph Agency reported in June 2000 that “threatening letters arrive regularly at the premier’s office. One recently sent anonymously to Moledet Knesset Member Benny Elon read, ‘To the best of my judgement, one should prepare a shelf plan to assassinate Ehud Barak. Just like the Oslo Accord process was slowed down after the annihilation of Yitzhak Rabin, one can prevent withdrawal in the Golan by annihilating Ehud Barak.’ Settler preparations for the ‘final battle’ are strongest in the areas where radicalism is usually most pronounced—Hebron, Beit-El and Kedumum.”
Shimon Riklin, leader of a group of young militant settlers, warned: “If Barak evacuates settlements, he might be murdered.”19 Rabbi Daniel Shilo declared in his settlement’s newsletter that “the transfer of parts of Eretz Israel amounts to treason”. In June 2000, Benny Katzover, a leader in the West Bank settlement movement, called Education Minister Yossie Sarid, head of the dovish Meretz party, “an executioner among executioners” because he is “ready to transfer tens of thousands of Jews to the enlightened regime of his excellency Yasser Arafat”. Katzover suggested that those protesting against the peace process not stick to the “law book” in their demonstrations.
In his book, A Little Too Close to God, David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Report, recalls the atmosphere at anti-Rabin rallies sponsored by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party: “I felt as if I were among wild animals, vicious, angry predators craving flesh and scenting blood. There was elation in the anger, elation bred of the certainty of eventual success.”20 Now, he fears, this extremism is on the march again.
Within the Jewish community itself, violence appears increasingly close to the surface. In June, a Conservative synagogue was set on fire in Jerusalem. Yonathan Liebowitz, a spokesman for the Conservative movement, said witnesses reported seeing apparently Orthodox men, wearing black velvet skullcaps, fleeing as the flames raged. The synagogue had previously been defaced with graffiti that labelled it a place unworthy for worship. The refusal to permit genuine religious freedom for non-Orthodox forms of Judaism fuels such actions.
The response to such religious violence has been minimal in Israeli religious and governmental circles. Barbara Sofer points out that when three synagogues were burned in Sacramento, California, the city’s entire religious community—of Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims—as well as the civic leadership, came together to show solidarity in the face of such a brutal assault. Law-enforcement authorities quickly apprehended the guilty parties. In Israel, she laments, “Where is our religious establishment? Rabbis cannot remain silent … I’m just one observant Jewish Jerusalemite. I condemn violence against any synagogue, any church and any mosque.”21
Synagogue president Hilary Herzberger said that, “If the chief rabbi had come out against such behavior, maybe it could have been prevented.” Rabbi Ehud Brandel, president of the Masorti, the Conservative movement in Israel, said that the lack of a strong response by authorities the last time a synagogue was attacked “sent a message of encouragement to those radical groups”. Legislator Meir Porush of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism bloc accused the Conservative movement of being responsible for burning its own synagogue. This charge led Naomi Hazan of the secular Meretz Party to charge Porush with making “anti-Semitic statements” by blaming the victim for the crime.22
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said the key to change lies as much with the ultra-Orthodox establishment as with the police, who did not make any arrests after past attacks on Reform and Conservative synagogues. “I have no reason to think that the arson will change anything,” he said. “As longs as there is no punishment meted out, then what incentive is there for an individual not to do this?”23
Israel’s reluctance to take action against Jewish terrorism has a long history. Sprinzak points out that following the 1948 assassination by Lehi terrorists of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, talks were held between Shaul Avigur, aide to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and the leaders of Lehi (including future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir), who were then in hiding:
An agreement of the latter to stop all subversive operations if Lehi’s members would not be discriminated against in the army was achieved. Avigur asked Shamir the names of the assassins, promising that nothing would happen to them, but Shamir refused to give them. Not one member of the hit team would ever spend a night jail or face a court of justice. For years there was a conspiracy of silence about the Bernadotte assassination … In 1960, the most talkative of all former Lehi commanders, Israel Eldad, approached Gideon Housner, the state attorney general, and offered to tell the truth about the assassination. “God forbid!” was Housner’s response. “Do you know the problems you will create for your country?”24
Now, as the secular leaders of Israel and the Palestinians move, however tortuously, towards a final peace agreement, it is time to confront the truth of Zionist terrorism and its long history, as well as the terrorism of Palestinian and other radical Islamic groups. Such terror groups represent small but vocal minorities, yet they have been permitted to exercise influence out of all proportion to their numbers. If history is not properly confronted, it will be impossible for both Israel and the Palestinians to move beyond it. And if the present opportunity for peace is permitted to slip away, few on either side will profit from the resulting chaos and disorder.
1. See Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman, Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin (London: Granta Books, 1998), pp. 4–5.
2. Ibid., pp. 8–9.
3. Donald Neff, “Jewish Defense League Unleashes Campaign of Violence in America”, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July–August 1999, p. 81.
5. Ehud Sprinzak, Brother against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination (New York: The Free Press, 1999), p. 145.
6. Ibid., p. 146.
7. Ibid., p. 153.
8. Ibid., p. 165.
9. Yair Kotler, Heil Kahane (New York: Adama Books, 1986), p. 198.
10. Sprinzak, Brother against Brother, p. 242.
11. Ibid., p. 245.
12. See Karpin and Friedman, Murder in the Name of God, pp. 83–5.
13. Ibid., pp. 105–7.
14. Sprinzak, Brother against Brother, pp. 259–60.
15. Ibid., p. 277.
16. David Shipler, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land (New York: Times Books, 1986), pp. 37–8.
17. Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 46–7.
18. Ibid., pp. 54–5.
19. Jerusalem Report, 3 July 2000.
20. David Horovitz, cited in the New York Times, 30 June 2000.
21. “Jerusalem Conservative Synagogue Torched”, Jerusalem Post (international edition), 30 June 2000.
23. “Not on Its Own”, Jerusalem Post (international edition), 7 July 2000.
24. Sprinzak, Brother against Brother, pp. 46–7.