Define “Extremist”

Soon I going be called out as an “extremist”. Not really because of my views, but rather  so as to “bracket” a position different from mine.  Jonathon Segall in “Time to Define – Part One” is setting me up. After giving the “Far Left”  a glancing shot, he is about to land on the Right a body blow.  Let’s see if I can dodge this one.

I found much to agree with Segall in his op-ed.  BDS and its followers certainly elicit derision for most Jews. The Finkelstein’s, the Butler’s, the Silverstein’s , the Lerner’s and now Harris-Gershon. For them the good Israel is a dead Israel and in truth I am very appreciative that Segall spends a great deal of his time calling out the “far-left” for their destructive and marginal views.  It would be even be very comforting if I didn’t know that I was next on the menu.

My thinking is that if the BDS crowd is considered the “extreme left” by Segall, then who, does he consider, is the “extreme right”? Who do I view as the “extreme right”?  I am sure that Segall isn’t going to restrict his list to “price tag” petty criminals nor to the crazy, loner mass murderers that have sprung up here and there from the Right. That would be too short of a list and not worth the bother for him. Rather I suspect that all Israelis that believe in Jewish rights in Judea and Shomron are going to be tarred with the label : “extremist”. Segall will label Danon, Regev, Feiglin perhaps even Tzipi Hotovely as all extremists. Our rabbis will be called extremist, and in fact anyone who opposes a two state solution will be labeled as an extremist.

It is no secret that most “settlers” are not Labor-Zionists. We, are far right of that term.  Still, I object being called an extremist. I am not even sure the term is applicable. Since the title of the op-ed  is “Time to Define”, let us first define what is an “extremist”.

Going to Wikipedia (not always the best source, but still rather handy), defines :

“Extremism (represented on both sides of the political spectrum) is any ideology (particularly in politics or religion), considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of a society or to violate common moral standards.”

Using this definition Segall can easily define his view (and his solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict ) as a “sensible, sane and centrist” solution. No matter if I and many others view the two state solution he espouses, calling for the relocating tens of thousands of settlers, as being “extreme”. Segall will claim that I am just holding on to the other end of the jump rope and skip over my objections.

The Right, of course, has seen this all before.

“Economist Ronald Wintrobe[5] argues that many extremist movements, even though having completely different ideologies share a common set of characteristics. As an example, he lists the following common characteristics between “Jewish fundamentalists” and “the extremists of Hamas”:[6]

  • Both are against any compromise with the other side.
  • Both want the entire land of Palestine for their group.
  • Both are entirely sure of their position.
  • Both advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.
  • Both are nationalistic.
  • Both are intolerant of dissent within their group.
  • Both demonize the other side, so that the members of Hamas, as viewed by the Israeli fundamentalists, sometimes sound exactly like the Israeli fundamentalists as viewed by Hamas.


 (also from wiki).

Unfortunately this  quote brings back bad  memories. I remember, back when in the end of 1993, when Mordecai and Shalom Lapid were murdered on their way home to Hebron.  Demonstrations followed and I remember some one (could it have been Yitschaq Rabin?) saying that the “Arabs have their extremists who oppose peace and we have ours”. As if there was a true equivalence between the sides.

And there is the core of the matter.

Wintrobe, being an economist, assumes his premises and builds a logical argument on them. Further examination shows that his assumptions are built on falsehoods and exaggerations. For example, how often have “Jewish Fundamentalists” gone into a Palestinian home to slit the throat of children and infants? How many fellow Jews have these “fundamentalists” murdered? I know, unfortunately, the Right has had its share of nutters, but they do not set the tone, they work alone, and they are not lionized to the level of martyrs.

The terms extremism or extremist are almost always exonymic — i.e. applied by others to a group rather than by a group labeling itself. Rather than labeling themselves extremist, those labeled as such might describe themselves as, for example, political radicals. There is no political party that calls itself “right-wing extremist” or “left-wing extremist”, and there is no sect of any religion that calls itself “extremist” or which calls its doctrine “extremism”.

So why is it necessary to call the “settlers” or the religious or the nationalistic people extremists?  In order to marginalize them and dismiss out of hand their concerns. Little does it matter that the object of Segall’s scorn live in Israel, serve in the army, participate and contribute to the economy, society and culture. We have to be labeled as dangerous, Cassandra’s , war-mongers, otherwise some one would have to listen to what we have to say.

The notion that there is a philosophy which can be described as extremism is considered by some to be suspect. Within sociology, several academics who track (and are critical of) extreme right-wing groups have objected to the term extremist, which was popularized by centrist sociologists in the 1960s and 1970s. As Jerome Himmelstein states the case: “At best this characterization tells us nothing substantive about the people it labels; at worst it paints a false picture.” (Himmelstein, p. 7). The act of labeling a person, group or action as extremist is sometimes claimed to be a technique to further a political goal — especially by governments seeking to defend the status quo, or political centrists. In any event, the term extremist — like the word violence— cannot be regarded as value-neutral.

 Unlike, the proponents of BDS or those who call Israel an “Apartheid State”, we love the country, love the Jewish People and are proud to part of it. Judith Butler isn’t the face of the future of the Jewish People. People like her , if they have children,  won’t be raising them to be Jews and definitely not to be Israelis. There can be no equivalence between the groups, and it is a disservice to Segall’s argument to propose any equivalence in order to justify his support for a two state solution.

Seymour Martin Lipset argued that besides the extremism of the left and right there is also an extremism of the center, and that it actually formed the base of fascism.[3

And that is my fear. Presenting the settlers as being extremist could easily degrade into justification of stripping us of our rights: the freedom of speech and the freedom to demonstrate. Our property, even our lives could become forfeit and those who resist could be “tasered”, beaten, run over by horses, or locked up without due process. In the defense of Liberal goals, tyrannical methods could be employed.

So, I extend a hand out to you Jonathon. Remember, we are both on the same side. We may disagree about many things, but I know you are a sincere supporter of Israel and I hope that you realize that I am too. Your demand that we confront the  dilemmas facing Israel, the demographic balance or Israel’s democratic nature is a fair one (just this piece is already too long). Please do not make us all out to be “extremists”.

Settlers are stakeholders in any peace agreement. Should the Palestinians choose a real path of coexistence, settlers would be the first to benefit (after the Palestinians themselves).  Roads would be safe. Our lives and property respected. We would have partners , neighbors even, who we could work with. Marginalizing us and our concerns  will only create antagonism  and makes us an enemy to any agreement.

And that would be a mistake. It would also be extremely wrong.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.