American Jewish Leaders asked to Speak Out against growing Terrorism in Israel

“American Jewish leaders have been quick and correct to call upon Muslim leaders in this country to condemn Islamic terrorism forcefully, particularly when it’s against Jews, and to mobilize their followers to oppose all such violence,” wrote Doug Bloomfield in the Oct. 16, 2008 issue of Washington Jewish Week. “But when it comes to Jewish violence and terrorism, they are strangely silent.”

He cited Jewish-Arab violence in the northern city of Acre which began when an Arab father and his son drove into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur and had their car stoned (see December 2008 Washington Report, p. 15). Word spread to Arab neighborhoods, from where youths rushed into Israeli parts of the city. Israeli police had to evacuate some Arab families when their homes were torched by ultra-Orthodox Jewish rioters. Houses, businesses and cars belonging to Arab and Jewish residents alike were vandalized, burned and looted.

“This is not an isolated problem, say Israeli army and police officials, but part of a spreading problem of violence by fervently Orthodox Jews and radical settlers. It’s not just in the West Bank, but also in Israeli cities like Acre and Jerusalem,” Bloomfield noted. “But you wouldn’t know it unless you spent a lot of time on the Internet reading the Israeli media.”

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called a Sept. 13 settler rampage in the West Bank village of Asira al-Kabaliya a “pogrom.” Fervently Orthodox zealots have formed “modesty patrols,” which Bloomfield described “as likely something straight out of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Shops have been looted, people harassed and stoned…Many haredi religious leaders reportedly approve of such behavior and even encourage it as defending the faith against secular encroachment…The growing violence by ultra-Orthodox zealots and vigilante settlers against fellow Jews as well as Arabs threatens to explode in Israel, but gets scant attention here. Yet, it could be a greater threat to Israeli democracy than the Islamic zealots. Olmert has warned that this ‘evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice…threatens Israeli democracy.’ And it is being ignored by the American Jewish establishment.”

On Sept. 25, a prominent Israeli peace activist and critic of the settler movement, Ze’ev Sternhell, was wounded in a pipe bombing of his home. Leaflets at the scene offered a prize of 1.1 million shekels to anyone who kills a member of Peace Now, the movement that is highly critical of Israel’s settlement policy, and concluded, “The time has come to establish a Halachic state in Judea and Samaria. It is time for the Kingdom of Judea.”

According to Bloomfield, “Only two major Jewish organizations condemned the bombing–the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League–but they made no mention of the larger problem nor of leaflets at the scene calling for the murder of peace activists and declaring ‘the State of Israel has become our enemy’ and its leaders are ‘a mob of wicked people, haters of the Torah who want to erase the laws of God.'”

While Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, had written to Prime Minister Olmert on Oct. 6 urging a crackdown on the violence and the honoring of Israel’s commitments to freeze settlements and dismantle illegal West Bank outposts, Bloomfield pointed out that, “The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the community’s leadership umbrella, not only has failed to condemn the Jewish terrorism and settler violence, but it has failed even to acknowledge the problem in the Daily Alert, a news summary prepared for it by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.”

Writing in the Oct. 10, 2008 Forward, columnist Leonard Fein, discussing the attack on Sternhell and the flier, noted: “Some of us well remember the name Emil Grunzweig, a Peace Now activist who was killed by a hand grenade while attending a rally in 1983. Now, we learn, according to Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest newspaper, that Emily Grunzweig, age 24, niece (and namesake) of Emil, has been receiving threatening phone calls. She is a law and political science student, and was until recently an organizer of Peace Now….’At first there were violent and threatening phone calls…When my full name appeared on the Peace Now statements, the phone calls became much more blatant, threatening and specific. The anonymous people who made the threats promised me that my end would be the same as Emil’s, if I didn’t stop my activity in Peace Now. I receive a threat at least once every two days.’ In other words,” Fein pointed out, “the attempted murder of Prof. Sternhell did not take place in a vacuum.”

In its Oct. 27, 2008 issue, The Jerusalem Report wrote of the 73-year-old Sternhell: “A Holocaust survivor, orphaned by the age of 7, Sternhell immigrated to Israel alone at the age of 15…A charismatic commander in the Israel Defense Forces who served in four wars, he is a professor of political science at Hebrew University. An Israel Prize laureate and an internationally renowned authority on the roots of fascism, he was a founding member of Peace Now…Sternhell…is a scathing critic of the Israeli occupation of the territories conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War…On Sept. 25, Sternhell was the target of the highest-profile political act of violence Israel has seen since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995.”

To the Report’s question of whether he thinks Israel may be declining into fascism, Sternhell replied: “I do believe that this violence is eating away at our democracy. Historically, democracies don’t fall because of military coups–they fall when the democratic society loses faith in itself. A democracy that doesn’t know how to protect itself from within cannot survive….There can be no doubt that messianic national movements, like the movement for the Greater Land of Israel, always pose a threat to democracies.”

Addressing American Jews, Sternhell declared: “I want to tell them that if they really want to serve the State of Israel, then they shouldn’t blindly support any government. They should be supporting the true, national interests of the Jewish people by helping us to put an end to the occupation. When they support the right wing and the settlers, they are undermining the state, even though they don’t mean to.”

“The interview reveals a terrible irony,” the Report concluded: “Sternhell, a victim of and scholar of European fascism, was attacked in his own home by Jewish fascists.”

In an October telephone interview, Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir said he was influenced by Israeli military leaders who had criticized Rabin’s land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Amir said he was moved to kill Rabin by “all those who understand the military,” naming former general and prime minister Ariel Sharon; former Israel Defense Forces chief Rafael Eitan; and Rehavam Ze’evi, a former general who advocated the removal of Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied territories.

According to the Nov. 1, 2008 Washington Post, “Amir enjoys the support of a small group of Israeli hard-liners and has succeeded in improving his prison condition by petitioning the courts. In 2003, he was moved to a prison whose location is more convenient for his family. He has won the removal of the cameras used to monitor him in his cell and was allowed to marry Larissa Trembovler. The two were granted a conjugal visit, and last year she gave birth to their son, who was circumcised in prison on Nov. 4, 2007, the anniversary of the assassination. Prison Authority spokesman Taron Zamir said such privileges were not accorded to Palestinian security prisoners…Amir also succeeded in a legal battle to have the right to speak over the phone. He conducted the interview by calling his wife, who handed her phone to a journalist.”

Early in November, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, said he saw in groups on Israel’s extreme right “a willingness to use firearms in order to halt diplomatic processes and harm political leaders. The Shin Bet is very concerned about this.”

Terrorism, of course, is not a new tactic among the ranks of extreme Zionism (see, for example, “Hamas: A Pale Image of the Jewish Irgun and Lehi Gangs” by Donald Neff, May/June 2006 Washington Report, p. 14). The 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948, and the murder of Prime Minister Rabin are well known. The recent events described above are evidence that terrorism remains an important element in Israeli politics today. “The sense that it is getting out of hand was stronger after the attack on Sternhell,” said Gershom Gorenberg, author of The Accidental Empire, a history of the settlement movement. “Internal fratricide is much more frightening than violence which takes place across the line of national conflict. I think it’s a mistake if you let a culture of vigilantism flourish against the Palestinians. It’s only a matter of time until it affects Jews as well.”

It is high time that American Jewish leaders confront the reality of what is taking place in Israel and show as much outrage at Zionist terrorism as the terrorism on the part of Islamic extremists. Morally, after all, they are the same.