Jewish “Religious” Extremism in Israel Must Be Stopped

Religious extremism is a dangerous phenomenon in the world today, especially in the Middle East (Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt), including Palestine and Israel. Most people tend to identify religious extremism with Radical Islam, but unfortunately a dangerous brand of religious/nationalist fundamentalism also exists within certain Jewish circles in Israel, especially in the Occupied West Bank (sometimes called Judea and Samaria and other times called “the Territories” or “the Occupied Territories”), causing much damage to the state of Israel and to Jews in Israel and around the world.

Most of the world knows about ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, and other political Islamist groups who are distorting the peace-loving moderate religion of Islam beyond the recognition of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world. These groups have been wreaking havoc upon fellow Muslims in many regions in the Middle East for many years, not to mention the dangers that they pose to Israel and the West as well, as we have seen in frequent terrorist attacks in Western European capitals in recent years.

However, less is known about Jewish extremist groups – and the rabbis who preach and teach for them — who have become a clear and present danger to the normative Jewish and democratic fiber of the state of Israel. While they are not totally new, some of these groups have become increasingly radicalized and anarchic, so much so that some of them do not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel and its democratic and legal systems.

For the last four years, Jewish extremist groups, known as “hilltop youth”, since they mostly occupy certain hilltops in illegal outposts in the West Bank, have been vandalizing churches and mosques, as well as homes of peaceniks and women in Israel. Last July, they stepped up their violence and burned the home of a Palestinian family in the village of Duma, killing the mother and father and one of the children. This outrageous upgrading of the violence by Jewish extremists led to a huge public outcry in Israel (and the world) and finally catalyzed the Israel security forces to take action. After several months of investigations, they finally issued an indictment against two of these young Jewish extremists for the murder of this Palestinian family.

These young “hilltop youth” extremists do not operate in a vacuum. Many of them have imbibed their sick and distorted so-called “religious” ideas from well-known rabbis in Israel, who have been preaching and teaching hatred of others for decades. Some of these rabbis have even been arrested from time to time but none of them has yet been tried or brought to justice for their incendiary incitement that has helped to foster an extreme xenophobic atmosphere in some of the illegal outposts and among some of the most extreme Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

One of the ringleaders of the “hilltop youth” is Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the infamous Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached and taught hatred of Arabs for many years in Israel. Mr. Ettinger has been in administrative detention for several months now. Some of the documents of his group, now called “The Mered” (The Revolution) have been found and leaked to the press. They contain horrifying hate literature as well as explicit instructions as to how to burn mosques and how to kill Palestinians.

Ironically, Rabbi Meir Kahane’s political party, Kach, was banned from the Knesset in 1988 due to incitement to racism. Yet, the followers of Kach today, who openly shout “Kahane was right” or “Death to the Arabs” are not similarly banned for incitement! Why not?

Other infamous rabbis have filled the gap since Meir Kahane was assassinated. For example,  Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg wrote Baruch Hagever in 1994, in praise of Baruch Goldstein’s horrific massacre of 29 innocent Palestinians at prayer  in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Since then, he has continued for many years to teach and spread hatred of Arabs through his writings and through his teaching in the extremist settlement of Yizhar, where he is president of the Joseph Lives Yeshiva, one of the most radical and racist places of learning in all of the settlements.

Many other extremist Orthodox rabbis in Israel have added fuel to the fires of hatred. For example, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur of the same yeshiva in Yizhar wrote a book called Torat Hamelech (The Teaching of the King), which sanctioned the killing of non-Jews, according to their interpretation of Jewish Law. Rabbi Ginsburg gave his blessing to this book.

The Tag Meir Forum (of which I have been a member for the past four years and for which I sit on the Steering Committee)   and the Israel Religious Action Center (of the Reform Movement) appealed to the Supreme Court to have these rabbis indicted for incitement to hatred, but the court rejected the appeal due some technical legalities. I actually attended a hearing about this at the Supreme Court and was shocked that only one of the three judges voted to accept the appeal. Since then , The Tag Meir Forum has submitted another appeal asking the court to indict Rabbi Elitzur for an inflammatory booklet which he also wrote in 2009 called “Mutual Responsibility” — which, among other things, gave clear instructions as to how to burn down a mosque—and this appeal is now pending.

Where do these extremist “hilltop youth” get their wild ideas from? The answer is clear — from their rabbis.

Why are their rabbis and their institutions not banned as was Meir Kahane’s Kach party many years ago? The answer to this question is not clear.

I believe that it is high time that these rabbis and their institutions should be prevented from continuing their incitement and their terrorist acts against innocent people. Both the people of Israel – and the Jews in the Diaspora — have to make it clear to the world that these people do not represent Judaism and their ideas are beyond the pale and must be firmly rejected and condemned. And, law enforcement in Israel must indict these rabbis for incitement and bring them to justice. They should no longer be beyond the law of the state.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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