Israelis shuddered when viewing the widely publicized extracts of the wedding video in which youngsters in large white knitted kippot brandished knives like savages, sang a hymn of vengeance and gleefully danced around photographs of the victims of the fatal Duma arson attack. That such a barbaric and ghoulish spectacle could occur in a Jewish state sickened the vast majority of the population.
This incident caused me to recall a conversation I had with the late Dr. Yosef Burg, a prominent cabinet minister and leader of Habayit Hayehudi’s more centrist religious Zionist antecedent, Hapoel Hamizrahi. At a time of euphoria with Gush Emunim’s expansion of settlements, Burg expressed profound concern about Jews living in outlying areas surrounded by Arabs. He warned, prophetically, that the vicious hatred radiated by the Arabs against the isolated Jews would impact negatively and undermine their humanity. Alas, this is precisely what has happened.
Despite the appalling disgrace and besmirching of our name by such demonic behavior, this pales in significance to the impact that such horrific acts can have on our society if not ruthlessly expunged.
Yes, those involved are an insignificant number and utterly unrepresentative of any segment of the community. It is also quite unprecedented for every sector of Israel society — from the prime minister and ranging from the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi through to left-wing Meretz, and including settler organizations and national religious rabbis — to unequivocally condemn these acts and urge that those involved be treated no differently from Palestinian terrorists.
Indeed, the fury it has ignited has led to authorizing the Shin Bet security agency to take such measures against Jewish terror suspects previously restricted to Palestinian “ticking bomb” captives, on the grounds that unconventional pressures could apply if that might lead to saving lives. This and administrative detention are highly unpalatable in a democracy but are justifiable during a state of war or when under siege. During World War II, the Allies took infinitely harsher steps, suspending civil rights.
The ultra-Right — including initially some individuals from Tkuma, the radical extremist element of Habayit Hayehudi — launched a hysterical campaign against the Shin Bet. However, many backed down after viewing the video. Ironically, some of the delusional far-left civil libertarians associated with Haaretz, who seek to nullify all administrative measures associated with security in relation to Palestinian terrorists, joined forces with the radical right elements in condemning the Shin Bet for using torture to extract confessions from suspects.
Taking into account Israel’s current overriding security requirements, there are inevitably occasional mistakes and instances of abuse, but overall the state must do whatever is necessary to identify and prosecute those engaged in such barbaric inhuman behavior. In the prevailing circumstances, especially with a right-wing government, most Israelis have confidence in the prime minister, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett when they unequivocally insist that the Shin Bet is acting in accordance with the law and government directives.
Until now, many Israelis have dismissed this phenomenon as mere hooliganism by wild “hilltop youth.” That is belittling the case. We are breeding, albeit now only a small number, of “religious lunatics” who could be described as post-religious Zionists. They have imbibed dangerous notions about the need to dismantle the secular state, get rid of the Arabs and set up what they describe as a Torah state. These fanatics are harbingers of great peril to Israeli society unless they are now ruthlessly targeted and delegitimized.
The abomination began initially with the so called “price-tag” desecrations of mosques, cemeteries and Arab property. Many of us warned that these despicable acts should be considered within the rubric of terrorism rather than criminal acts. We warned that they would ultimately lead to violence and possibly killings and unfortunately that is precisely what happened.
There are too many who, while disgusted with the murders, tend to understate the damage that these fanatical thugs — often understated as misdirected youngsters — can inflict on our society. And in some cases, the parents who failed to prevent their children from engaging in purportedly nonviolent price-tag operations must also bear responsibility. This applies especially now, during this period of suicidal Muslim terrorism as anger and fear pervades civilians throughout the country, making them less tolerant toward Arabs.
What makes these fanatics even more dangerous is that most of them consider that they are carrying out God’s will. They could easily morph into equivalents of the jihadis.
It would seem that one of their main sources of inspiration emanates from a handful of charismatic extremist rabbis who turn a blind eye or even encourage their followers to engage in acts of violence.
The state and successive governments until now have tolerated such deviants. It is disgraceful that in our dysfunctional political system, a religious fanatic like Kiryat Arba’s Chief Rabbi, Dov Lior, retains a state-funded rabbinical role when he publicly and unapologetically refers to the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein as being “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust” and has instructed the synagogue under his authority to exclude the prayer for the government. It should hardly be surprising that if the state continues to fund even a small number of rabbis with such views, that some of our hilltop youngsters fall under their spell and decide to expand their war against the Arabs.
This situation is currently limited to fringe splinter groups of primarily young religious deviants. The government should be applauded for using an iron fist in its determination to indict and neutralize these miscreants. But the few radical rabbis who stand aside or implicitly endorse these actions must be dismissed forthwith and investigated for possible incitement.
Naftali Bennett, as education minister, should issue appropriate directives to ensure that the curriculum, especially that of the national religious stream, imparts the necessary message to children in relation to this issue. All rabbis should speak out and condemn any colleague who remains silent or ambivalent.
In addition, the settlement movement must move beyond mere condemnation of these deviants. The extremists should be made aware that aside from facing indictments from law enforcement officials, their own communities will excommunicate and report them to the authorities.
At the same time, outraged as we are by such abominations, we must not become masochists or accept the distortions about us being promoted in the global media. Yes, we have a tiny fringe element of fanatical Jewish extremists who can be deemed terrorists. But that does not warrant equating us with our neighbors. The definition of a healthy society is not determined by acts of terror but by how the society responds.
In the Palestinian arena, the terror is preceded by vile campaigns inciting Muslims to kill Jews and become martyrs. Every murder is sanctified and glorified at the national level from PA head Mahmoud Abbas and extended by the mullahs in the mosques, through to the schools and the media. Every murder results in joyful street celebrations with scenes of the proud parents of the “martyrs.” Soon thereafter, streets, city squares and even football clubs will be named after the murderers.
Compare that with Israel, where the entire nation, including every party in the Knesset, is horrified and shocked that even isolated barbaric behavior of this nature could occur in this country and where draconian steps are taken to identify and indict the Jewish terrorists.
We should give full backing to the government to act with uncompromising discipline and eradicate these home-grown aberrations who reject the sanctity of human life as well as investigating the behavior of a handful of fringe extremist rabbis.
These are early days and the situation can be rectified but there must be a recognition that, like cancer in a body, these elements must be completely cauterized or they could revive and cause us immeasurable damage, shaking the very moral foundations of the nation.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom