Council for the National Interest

Growth of racism and religious extremism in Israel: A challenge to its American friends

Feb 13 2014 / 5:52 pm

By Allan C. Brownfeld.

In a thoughtful new study guide issued by the Israel/Palestine Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a question is asked which few have thus far been willing to pose:  “Given the liberal values shared by many American Jews and the long, proud tradition of Jewish participation in the struggle for human rights worldwide, why has there been so little outrage expressed at Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians in the decades since Israel’s founding?”

Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, offers a personal answer:  “The truth is that like many liberal American Jews—and most American Jews are still liberal—I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going.”
Beyond this, Krugman points to the high price for speaking out, which is “to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.”

Journalist Peter Beinart, now a regular contributor to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, laments that the organized American Jewish community is “a closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control.  American Jewish leaders, even those who harbor no animosity toward Palestinians, know little about the reality of the Palestinians’ lives.”

The reality of the growth of racism and religious extremism and intolerance in Israel has been largely ignored by those groups in the U.S. such as AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which devote so much time, energy and resources to promoting what they perceive, often mistakenly, to be Israeli interests.

In Israel itself, there is far more soul-searching and open discussion and debate.  Israeli historian Simha Flapan, describing the years following the 1967 Six-Day War, writes, “There always was an orthodox, fundamentalist current in Judaism, characterized by racial prejudice toward non-Jews in general and Arabs in particular.  A substantial portion—perhaps even the overwhelming majority—of the religious movements, and a growing part of the population in general, came to conceive of the West Bank not as the homeland of the Palestinian people but as Judea and Samaria, the birthplace of the Jewish faith and homeland of the Jewish people.  Many people not only became indifferent to the national rights of the Palestinians living there, they did not even see the necessity of granting them civil rights.”

David Remnick, editor of THE NEW YORKER, provides this look at current developments in Israel:  “Dov Lior, the head of an important West Bank rabbinical council, has called Baruch Goldstein—who, in 1994, machine-gunned twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron —‘holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.’  Lior endorsed a book that discussed when it is right and proper to murder an Arab, and he and a group of kindred rabbis issued a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting land to non-Jews.  Men like (Avigdoriii) Lieberman (Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs), (Elyakim) Levanon (chief rabbi of the Elon Moreh settlement, near Nablus), and Lior are scarcely embittered figures on the irrelevant margins;  a hard-right base—the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, Shas, the National Religious Party—is indispensable to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.”

Consider the publication in 2009 of the book Torat Ha’Melech (or the King’s Torah).  According to the authors, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.”  Shapira and Elitzur argue that, “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments (of Noah)…there is nothing wrong with the murder.”  Citing Jewish law as his source (or at least a very selective interpretation of it) he declared:  “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately and not only during combat with adults.”

Torat Ha’Melech was written as a guide for soldiers and army officers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement.  Shapira and Elitzur urged a policy of ruthlessness toward non-Jews, insisting that the commandment against murder “refers only to a Jew who kills a Jew, and not to a Jew who kills a gentile, even if the gentile is one of the righteous among the nations.”

The rabbis went on to pronounce all civilians of the enemy population “rodef,” or villains who chase Jews and are therefore fair game for slaughtering.  They also justified the killing of Jewish dissidents.  “A rodef is any person who weakens our kingdom by speech and so forth,” they wrote.

In his important book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” Max Blumenthal reports that, “The genocidal philosophy expressed in Torat Ha’Melech emerged from the fevered atmosphere of a settlement called Yitzhar located in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian city of Nablus.  There Shapira helps lead the settlement’s Od Yosef Chai yeshiva…he took a radical turn after joining the Chabad sect under the tutelage of Rabbi Yitzchok Ginsburgh, the director of Yitzhar’s Od Yosef Chai yeshiva who defended seven of his students who murdered an innocent Palestinian girl by asserting the superiority of Jewish blood.  In 1994, when the Jewish fanatic Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Ginsburgh lionized Goldstein in a lengthy article entitled ‘Baruch Hagever,’ or ‘Baruch, The Great Man.’  He cast Goldstein’s murder spree as an act consistent with core Halakhic teachings, from the importance of righteous revenge to the necessity of the ‘eradication’ of the seed of Amalek.'”

These are not obscure, fringe figures.  Od Yosef Chai has received significant funding from both the Israel Ministry of Social Affairs and the Israeli Ministry of Education.  It has also benefited handsomely from donations from a tax-exempt American organization called the Central Fund for Israel.

According to Blumenthal, a Jewish American who laments the perversion of Jewish values by many in Israel, “Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron..has secured considerable influence inside the military.  In 2008, when the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, Brig. Gen. Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who was allowed to regale the officers with his views on modern warfare, which includes vehement support for the collective punishment of Palestinians.  Ronski, for his part, has overseen the distribution of extremist tracts to soldiers…including ‘Baruch Hagover,’ and a pamphlet stating, ‘When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.'”

The examples of growing religious intolerance would fill many pages.  On Dec. 23, just days before Nazareth’s Palestinian residents planned to celebrate Christmas, Shimon Gaspo, the mayor of Nazareth Illit, a mostly Jewish community adjacent to Nazareth proper, announced a literal war on Christmas, declaring his refusal to tolerate the display of a single Christmas tree within city limits.  “Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen—not this year and not next year, as long as I am mayor,” Gaspo proclaimed.  Michael Ben-Ari, a right-wing member of parliament, tore up a copy of the New Testament on the floor of the Knesset.

In response to the presence of political asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, Eli Yishai, the Israeli interior minister and leader of the religious Shas party, distilled his concept of the need to maintain a Jewish majority into clear racialist terms.  Warning that the migrants “will quickly bring us to the end of the Zionist dream,” Yishai declared.  “Most of these people arriving here…think the country doesn’t belong to us, the white man.”

There has been more concern expressed in Israel about such racist sentiments than among American Jewish organizations, which largely ignore them.  On June 6, on a prime time Israeli news talk show called London and Kirschenbaum, Channel 10 military correspondent Or Heller made the connection between Israel’s treatment of Africans and the treatment of Jews in 1940s Europe.  “I think everyone should be asking themselves what’s next,”‘Heller warned.  “Because if you change their skin color and add numbers, you’ll get my own grandmother sixty years ago.”

Zvi Bar’el, a Middle East affairs analyst for Haaretz, recently wrote an article about why many liberal-minded Israelis are choosing to emigrate.  He writes:  “In Israel, politically, the discourse is one of despair.  It’s a fanatic, illiberal discourse.”  In a society that confers special privileges on Jews (but only on some since non-Orthodox rabbis cannot perform marriages, funerals or conversions), Palestinians, even those who represent 20 per cent  of Israel’s population, are widely regarded with contempt and their marginalization is accepted.  “Hatred of Arabs,” declares Zvi Bar’el, ‘is part of the test of loyalty and identity that the state gives its Jewish citizens.”

Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian who served in the Knesset for ten years, describes Israel’s current reality this way:  “In Israel, you have three systems of laws.  One is democracy for 80 per cent of the population.  It is democracy for Jews.  I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy.  The second is racial discrimination for 20 per cent of the population, the Israeli Arabs.  The third is apartheid for the population of the West Bank and Gaza.  This includes two sets of governments, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers.  Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid, but we are being pushed there with these new laws.  Right now, I would say Israel is a Jewish and democratic state.  It is democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward the Arabs.”

Repeatedly claiming that Israel is “Jewish and democratic”—and demanding that the world recognize it as such— does not make it so.  It is sad to see American Jewish organizations, which have been vocal in opposing all forms of racism and intolerance in our own society, turn a blind eye to the growth of racism and intolerance in Israel, which they seem to support no matter what it does.  This is not being a good friend.  Friends don’t let friends drive drunk which, unfortunately, Israel now seems to be doing.  What does this blindness about what is happening tell us about the real values of Israel’s vocal American supporters?  They owe us an explanation.


Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor of ISSUES, the journal of the American Council for Judaism. He will be speaking at the upcoming National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel ‘Special Relationship.’.

Posted by on Feb 13 2014 . Filed under Commentary & Analysis, Featured articles, Israel Lobby . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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