There is a connection between Anglo Jewry and rowdy settlers. There is a particular connection between American Jews and the settlers committing Price Tag attacks — and worse.
Anglos are a minority in Israel — of this, there is no doubt. However, Anglo olim are a noticeable presence in one particular Israeli community: settlers. And the settlers, and their Religious Zionist supporters, are causing big problems.
They are by no means the majority, but at approximately 15% of the settler population, they are a sizable minority with a noticeable impact on the settler enterprise and culture. “This provides hard evidence that this constituency is strikingly over-represented, both within the settler population itself and within the total population of Jewish American immigrants in Israel,” Sara Yael Hirschhorn, the author of the forthcoming book “City on a Hilltop: Jewish-American Settlers in the Occupied Territories Since 1967,” said during a presentation at Jerusalem’s Limmud conference, according to Haaretz.
Some Jews from Anglo countries make aliyah to escape anti-Semitism in their home communities, but this percentage seems to be a minority in comparison to those who made aliyah from countries like France and Ukraine. Thus, it is likely that we can safely assume that many Anglo, and specifically American Jews, make Aliyah primarily for religious and ideological reasons. This is not in itself a bad thing; however, the combination of a certain type of American Zionism, religious zeal, and political goals have led to a witches brew.
The result? A highly ideological core community that is less likely to respect the rule of law and have compassion for the needs of other communities – Israeli and Palestinian alike.
What does this community look like? Examples abound. Baruch Marzel, a Kahanist, Lehava front man, and member of Otzma, was born in Boston and raised Orthodox. Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 innocent praying people and injured another 125, was also born and raised in the United States in an Orthodox community. He graduated from Yeshiva University. A number of people involved in the “wedding of hate” where participants danced with weapons and stabbed a picture of Ali Dawabsheh, the baby killed in an act of arson in Duma, were Anglo – either themselves olim, or children of Anglo olim.
This trend is not new. It was recorded as far back as the 80s, where already Israelis were decrying the “crazy Americans” involved in the terrorism of the Jewish Underground, recalls Chaim Waxman, speaking of a course he taught at Tel Aviv University. Though only one member of the Jewish Underground was American, this perception had already taken root.
Of course, not every Jewish law-breaking settler is an American, or even an Anglo. Michael Ben-Ari, a disciple of Meir Kahane and the spokesman for Lehava, a hyper-nationalist group whose egregious acts have included attempts to burn down joint Arab and Jewish schools and attempt to break up inter-ethnic weddings, and leader of the failed Otzma party, is Mizrahi. His parents are of Iranian and Afghani background. Similarly, Ben Tzion Gopstein, chairman of Lehava, is a true sabra – born and bred in Israel to Israeli parents. Not an Anglo. And yet, both take their cues from and are ardent disciples of Meir Kehane, an American born and raised Orthodox Jew who essentially created and imported a virulent and potent political creed born of nationalist fervor and ecstatic religious messianic eschatology. Amiram Ben-Ulilel, the man arrested for the Duma murders celebrated in that eponymous Jerusalem “Hate Wedding,” is also not an Anglo. (However, his 17 year old accomplice is – and so are some of the others involved in the crime.)
Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that American Jews as a whole are responsible for this mess, or that even the majority of American immigrants to Israel bear such a responsibility. Other factors are involved, including academic difficulties and subsequent social embracing by extremist communities. However, not bearing complete responsibility is not the same as no complicity whatsoever, and there is undeniably an ideological trend among a specific subset of American Jews who made Aaliyah. Their relative weight among the populace and the pride of place of their leaders in this group make denying this unfeasible. In fact, the well-oiled nature of this uber-right wing political apparatus is possibly the most distinctively American thing about their enterprise. And this hybrid ideology of American political organizing combined with religious zeal resulting in this uber-nationalist eschatological political ideology has metastasized into something truly horrible.
This is a problem that American Jews need to wrestle with: are our communities promoting the values we say we value? Do we really teach each other and our children to love each other, or do we limit our fellow-feeling only to our fellow Jews? Do we teach the worthiness and necessity of pluralism and a strong civic society, or do we gloss over these sections in our history texts in favor of some more Talmud obscura? Do we talk about our success in America and why it matters, or are we focused only on our oppression, and our pain, to the exclusion of others? It’s becoming increasingly clear that among the Jewish-American establishment, even liberal Jews (and that’s most of us) are keeping silent about assaults on civil liberties in Israel in a way we never would were they taking place in America. And the worst of that hypocrisy is what’s exported when some of our number make aaliyah, especially after it’s incubated a generation or two in the most extreme of the ideological settler towns.
There is a difference between being a loyal friend, and being an enabler. Some on the right-wing who wish to carry on un-challenged conflate being called out to being disloyal, and an enemy of Israel and the Jewish people; but nothing can be further from the truth. If you love your fellow Jews, and if you care about Israel and Israelis – or anyone else! – it is your duty as a friend and ally to take a stand against harmful, destructive behaviour. Those who insist on enabling the worst in either of our societies are not our friends, and indeed, harm us too by allowing us to continue contributing to some of the worst, most horrific trends in Israeli society that we have lately seen. (Is there anything worse than deliberately setting a baby on fire? Perhaps, but I’d rather not ponder the question.) The Diaspora and the Israeli population are in a constant dialogue – we cannot pretend that we do not influence each other. It is our responsibility to ensure that we actively promote good and excise evil – and we have been falling down on the job. It’s time to step up.
This article was originally published on the website of Partners for Progressive Israel, a progressive pro-peace non-profit.