23. Extremism in Israel: Alive and Well?
The scene this week: hundreds of young Israeli Jews chanting "Death to Arabs" and attacking Palestinians. Is this part of today's reality in Israel?
Yes. Confrontations began when Israeli police stopped Palestinians gathering outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate, as was their custom during the holy month of Ramadan. Palestinians responded with attacks on Jewish passers-by, similar to "lone wolf" attacks of past years.
Then the Jewish extremists in Lehava sprang into action, organizing to attack Palestinians en masse. The police, using stun grenades, "skunk water"(an Israeli invention), and sponge-tipped bullets, managed to keep the two sides largely separated, though with more injuries to the Palestinians.
Lehava (Flame) is an acronym for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land. Claiming 10,000 members, they oppose peace with Arabs in any form, including dialogue, cultural encounters, or intermarriage. They also oppose the presence of Christianity in the Holy Land.
The inspiration for the far right in Israel is the late Meir Kahane, an American-born Rabbi who, after immigrating to Israel, founded the racist party Kach (Thus) and won election to the Knesset in 1984. Kahane shamelessly advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.
He also proposed laws to separate Jews from non-Jews on beaches, to prohibit intermarriage and extra-marital relations between Jews and non-Jews, and to restrict residence rights of the minority. Critics quickly pointed out that these proposals were indistinguishable from the infamous Nuremburg Laws of the Nazis. The only difference was that Jews would now be the master race rather than the downtrodden party.
Kahane openly advocated violence against those seen as enemies. He was convicted in the United States of plotting to blow up the Soviet mission to the United Nations. His followers included Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron, a holy site shared by Judaism and Islam.
In 2014 other extremists kidnapped and burned to death a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in retaliation for the killing of three young Israelis. To Israel's credit, the murderers were arrested and convicted.
After Kahane was elected to the Knesset, Israel adopted a law that outlawed racist parties. But the Kahanists are alive and well, represented today by Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power). Otzma Yehudit avoids overt racism, but advocates the expulsion of Palestinians unwilling to sign a loyalty oath.
As part of the far right Religious Zionist party, Otzma Yehudit has placed the Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Knesset just elected. Ben-Gvir openly declares his devotion to Kahane, and until recently had a picture of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his living room.
Otzma Yehudit and Lehava have, in the past, shared office space. It's very clear that they share much more than that. It is equally clear why Lehava feels empowered by recent events in Israel to engage in open war with Palestinians, and if necessary with the Israeli police as well.
In some ways this is the Israeli equivalent of January 6 at the U.S. Capitol.