Neither right- nor left-wing organizations can guarantee total immunity against infiltration by fanatics and extremists. Their real test of moral integrity can be determined by the degree to which they isolate, condemn and purge such elements from their ranks.
It is thus wrong to blame the Labor Party for spawning far-left Israeli defamers of the Jewish state. These extremists were in fact deviants from a social democratic movement which made a formative contribution to the foundation of the state, despite having today sadly degenerated into a caricature of its former glory.
Those who besmirch Labor Zionists may be unaware that our founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, ferociously and ruthlessly purged extremists from his party, Mapai, which dominated Israel in its formative years. Ben-Gurion and other Labor leaders would never have tolerated those who today defame the IDF and pave the way for the global criminalization of Israel and the odious Goldstone Report. Nor would they have buried their heads in the sand and ignored the academics in our midst who have the gall to exploit universities as launching pads to defame and delegitimize the state and even call for global international boycotts of their own institutions. Ironically, Labor was far more effective in dealing with renegades and the mad Left than Likud under whose regime the post-Zionists emerged from the closet and bloomed.
Since the tragic assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, some of the far-left radicals have developed a penchant for accusing communities on the Right with collective responsibility for the crimes of individual extremists. They have been especially inclined to vent their spleen on their prime adversaries, religious Zionists, whose uninhibited patriotism and devotion to the state is manifested by the inordinately large proportion of their youngsters serving as role models in IDF combat units.
In the hyper-emotional climate of Israeli politics and religious fervor, it is not entirely surprising that a number of criminals motivated by extremism did indeed emerge from this sector. I have written previously about the danger posed by a handful of radical rabbis who endorsed the right to violently resist government decrees which they determined clashed with the will of the Almighty. These extremist zealots were condemned by responsible rabbinical and religious Zionist political leaders. But in retrospect, they should have been dealt with more ruthlessly.
NEVERTHELESS, it is outrageous to stigmatize the entire religious Zionist community for crimes committed by a few individuals, many of whom had no relationship with religious Zionism. For example, the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein may have been “observant.” But he had no ties to religious Zionism and was simply a lone demented killer who probably unraveled after absorbing the radiant hatred from Arabs surrounding him.
On the other hand, prior to perpetrating his evil deed, Yigal Amir, Rabin’s loathsome assassin, on the surface displayed all the positive characteristics of a religious Zionist role model. Had he not misunderstood or been influenced by the hysterical ravings of a few zealots or extremist rabbis, he may never have been transformed into a murderer.
After the assassination of Rabin, the religious Zionist movement relentlessly purged extremists from its ranks. However in the wake of the trauma of the Gaza disengagement, new wild extremist fringe groups emerged. Some sought to break away from the state, alleging it had betrayed them, identified with anti-Zionist haredim and refused to serve in the IDF. To this day, we still hear about unhinged rabbis babbling about killing non-Jews. Regrettably they are sometimes dismissed as madmen rather than prosecuted.
But renegade rabbis had no bearing on the sick and demented alleged serial murderer Ya’acov Teitel, whom religious Zionists and the settlers are falsely accused of having nurtured. The truth is that Teitel already had a shady record before arriving here from America and was simply an insane lone killer who even proclaimed that God would be happy with his depraved actions.
OF LATE, groups on the far Left have intensified campaigns primarily directed towards discrediting and defaming settlers and religious Zionists under the guise of commemorating the memory of Rabin.
As one who was privileged to know Rabin, I consider it nauseating to observe post-Zionists and extremists who detested Rabin now abusing his memory in order to promote their policies and attempt to silence their opponents.
Rabin’s “gamble” with the Oslo Accords proved to have been a disastrous failure. But he was a consummate Zionist and few would deny that his sole motivation throughout his political life was to promote peace and the wellbeing of the nation. He would have despised and regarded with utter contempt many of those on the far Left who today claim to be promoting his legacy.
Admittedly, prior to his assassination, in the course of the bitter political debate, Rabin developed a love-hate relationship with the settlers and when condemned by them occasionally responded by employing vulgar language. But I vividly recollect a particular conversation in which he virtually predicted the Baruch Goldstein scenario by warning about uncontrollable extremist fanatics but accompanied these remarks with words of love and admiration for religious Zionists whom he regarded as amongst the most dedicated patriots in the land.
Needless to say, stereotyping or extending collective guilt to an entire community for the crimes of individuals is despicable, irrespective of whether it applies to religious Zionists, settlers, haredim, Russians, Ethiopians or any minority.
Only a few months ago, after a shocking case of child abuse in the haredi community, there were efforts to falsely stigmatize all haredim as child abusers. There were also irresponsible media outbursts trying to collectively bracket Russian olim with the alleged brutal slayings by Dimitry Kirilik.
As Jews we should be especially sensitive to such pernicious practices. Since time immemorial, highlighting the criminality of an individual Jew in order to defame entire Jewish communities was a central feature of anti-Semitic incitement. It is thus rather sickening in our time to see Jews using similar techniques against Jews.
In these difficult times we must strongly condemn the stigmatization of any group and also remain vigilant against any manifestations of extremism or incitement whether from the Right or the Left. That also applies especially within the religious arena in which the explosive fusion of nationalist extremism combined with zealotry has the potential of being transformed into the most brutal forms of violence and mayhem.
In this regard, the silence and failure of mainstream rabbis to condemn insubordination and refusal to obey orders by a handful of religious soldiers under the influence of a few radical spiritual leaders is highly disconcerting.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post