When I went into the Jewish religious book emporium, Pomeranz, in central Jerusalem to inquire about the availability of a book called Torat Ha’Melech, or the King’s Torah, a commotion immediately ensued. “Are you sure you want it?” the owner, M. Pomeranz, asked me half-jokingly. “The Shabak [Israel's internal security service] is going to want a word with you if you do.” As customers stopped browsing and began to stare in my direction, Pomeranz pointed to a security camera affixed to a wall. “See that?” he told me. “It goes straight to the Shabak!”
As soon as it was published late last year,Torat Ha’Melech sparked a national uproar. The controversy began when an Israeli tabloid panned the book’s contents as “230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guidebook for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew.” According to the book’s author, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, “Non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and should be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has has violated one of the seven commandments… there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira insisted. Citing Jewish law as his source (or at least a very selective interpretation of it) he declared: “There is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”
In January, Shapira was briefly detained by the Israeli police, while two leading rabbis who endorsed the book, Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef, were summoned to interrogations by the Shabak. However, the rabbis refused to appear at the interrogations, essentially thumbing their noses at the state and its laws. And the government did nothing. The episode raised grave questions about the willingness of the Israeli government to confront the ferociously racist swathe of the country’s rabbinate. “Something like this has never happened before, even though it seems as if everything possible has already happened,” Israeli commentator Yossi Sarid remarked with astonishment. “Two rabbis [were] summoned to a police investigation, and announc[ed] that they will not go. Even settlers are kind enough to turn up.”
In response to the rabbis’ public rebuke of the state’s legal system, the Israeli Attorney General and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept silent. Indeed, since the publication of Torat Ha’Melech, Netanyahu has strenuously avoided criticizing its contents or the author’s leading supporters. Like so many prime ministers before him, he has been cowed into submission by Israel’s religious nationalist community. But Netanyahu appears to be particularly impotent. His weakness stems from the fact that the religious nationalist right figures prominently in his governing coalition and comprises a substantial portion of his political base. For Netanyahu, a confrontation with the rabid rabbis could amount to political suicide, or could force him into an alliance with centrist forces who do not share his commitment to the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
On August 18, a pantheon of Israel’s top fundamentalist rabbis flaunted their political power during an ad hoc congress they convened at Jerusalem’s Ramada Renaissance hotel. Before an audience of 250 supporters including the far-right Israeli Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari, the rabbis declared in the name of the Holy Torah that would not submit to any attempt by the government to regulate their political activities — even and especially if those activities included inciting terrorist attacks against non-Jews. As one wizened rabbi after another rose up to inveigh against the government’s investigation of Torat Ha’Melech until his voice grew hoarse, the gathering degenerated into calls for murdering not just non-Jews, but secular Jews as well.
“The obligation to sacrifice your life is above all others when fighting those who wish to destroy the authority of the Torah,” bellowed Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the yeshiva in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. “It is not only true against non-Jews who are trying to destroy it but against Jewish people from any side.”
The government-funded terror academy
The disturbing philosophy expressed in Torat Ha’Melech emerged from the fevered atmosphere of a settlement called Yitzhar located in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Shapira leads the settlement’s Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, holding sway over a small army of fanatics who are eager to lash out at the Palestinians tending to their crops and livestock in the valleys below them. One of Shapira’s followers, an American immigrant named Jack Teitel, has confessed to murdering two innocent Palestinians and attempting to the kill the liberal Israeli historian Ze’ev Sternhell with a mail bomb. Teitel is suspected of many more murders, including an attack on a Tel Aviv gay community center.
Despite its apparent role as a terror training institute, Od Yosef Chai has raked in nearly fifty thousand dollars from the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs since 2007, while the Ministry of Education has pumped over 250 thousand dollars into the yeshiva’s coffers between 2006 and 2007. The yeshiva has also benefited handsomely from donations from a tax-exempt American non-profit called the Central Fund of Israel. Located inside the Marcus Brothers Textiles store in midtown Manhattan, the Central Fund transferred at least thirty thousand to Od Yosef Chai between 2007 and 2008.
Though he does not name “the enemy” in the pages of his book, Shapira’s longstanding connection to terrorist attacks against Palestinian civilians exposes the true identity of his targets. In 2006, Shapira was briefly held by Israeli police for urging his supporters to murder all Palestinians over the age of 13. Two years later, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, he signed a rabbinical letter in support of Israeli Jews who had brutally assaulted two Arab youths on the country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. That same year, Shapira was arrested under suspicion that he helped orchestrate a rocket attack against a Palestinian village near Nablus. Though he was released, Shapira’s name arose in connection with another act of terror, when in January, the Israeli police raided his settlement seeking the vandals who set fire to a nearby mosque. After arresting ten settlers, the Shabak held five of Shapira’s confederates under suspicion of arson.
Friends in high places
Despite his longstanding involvement in terrorism, or perhaps because of it, Shapira counts Israel’s leading fundamentalist rabbis among his supporters. His most well-known backer is Dov Lior the leader of the Shavei-Hevron yeshiva at Kiryat Arba, a radical Jewish settlement near the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron and a hotbed of Jewish terrorism. Lior has vigorously endorsed Torat Ha’Melech, calling it “very relevant, especially in this time.”
Lior’s enthusiasm for Shapira’s tract stems from his own eliminationist attitude toward non-Jews. For example, while Lior served as the IDF’s top rabbi, he instructed soldiers: “There is no such thing as civilians in wartime… A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail!” Indeed, there are only a few non-Jews whose lives Lior would demand to be spared. They are captured Palestinian militants who, as he once suggested, could be used as subjects for live human medical experiments.
Otherwise, Lior appears content to watch Palestinians perish as they did at the muzzle of Dr. Baruch Goldstein’s machine gun in 1994. Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians and wounded 150 in a shooting spree while they prayed in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs mosque, was a compatriot and neighbor of Lior in the settlement of Kiryat Arba. At Goldstein’s funeral, Lior celebrated the massacre as an act carried out “to sanctify the holy name of God.” He then extolled Goldstein as “a righteous man.” Thanks to Lior’s efforts, a shrine to Goldstein was constructed in center of Kiryat Arba so that locals could celebrate the killer’s deeds and pass his legacy down to future generations.
Though Lior’s inflammatory statements resulted in his being barred from running for election to the Supreme Rabbinical Council, according to journalist Daniel Estrin, the rabbi remains “a respected figure among many mainstream ZIonists.” By extension, he maintains considerable influence among religious elements in the IDF. In 2008, when the IDF’s chief rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Ronski, brought a group of military intelligence officers to Hebron for a special tour, he concluded the day with a private meeting with Lior, who was allowed to revel the officers with his views on modern warfare — “no such thing as civilians in wartime.”
Besides Lior, Torat Ha’Melech has earned support from another nationally prominent fundamentalist rabbi: Yaakov Yosef. Yosef is the leader of the Hazon Yaakov Yeshiva in Jerusalem and a former member of Knesset. Perhaps more significantly, he is the son of Ovadiah Yosef, the former chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas Party that forms a key segment of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
Yaakov Yosef has brought his influence to bear in defense of Torat Ha’Melech, insisting at the August 18 convention in Jerusalem that the book was no different than the Hagadah that all Jews read from on the holiday of Passover. The Hagadah contains passages about killing non-Jews and so does the Bible, Yosef reminded his audience. “Does anyone want to change the Bible?” he asked.
Only days before direct negotiations in Washington between Israel and the Palestinian Authority planned for early September, Yaakov Yosef’s 89-year-old father, Ovadiah delivered his weekly sermon. With characteristic vitriol, he declared: “All these evil people should perish from this world… God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”
The remarks have sparked an international furor and earned a stern rebuke from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. “While the PLO is ready to resume negotiations in seriousness and good faith,” Erekat remarked, “a member of the Israeli government is calling for our destruction.”
Palestinian Israeli member of Knesset Jamal Zehalka subsequently demanded that the Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein put Yosef on trial for incitement. “If, heaven forbid, a Muslim spiritual leader were to make anti-Jewish comments of this sort,” Zehalka said, “he would be arrested immediately.”
Here was a perfect opportunity for Netanyahu to demonstrate sincerity about negotiations by shedding an extremist ally in the name of securing peace. All he had to do was forcefully reject Yosef’s genocidal comments — a feat made all the easier by the White House’s condemnation of the rabbi. But the Israeli Prime Minister ducked for political cover instead, issuing a canned statement through his office. “Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s remarks do not reflect Netanyahu’s views,” the statement read, “nor do they reflect the position of the Israeli government.”
Thus on the eve of peace negotiations, Bibi chose political expediency over condemning the murderous oath of a coalition partner.
After working tirelessly to inspire a nationwide pogrom against Muslim citizens of the United States, the leading online race hustler Pam Geller is pantomiming outrage about a video showing her supporters harassing and nearly assaulting a black man they mistook for a Muslim at the rally against the construction of the Cordoba House Islamic center on August 22. Geller’s reaction to the video was couched in a typically unhinged tirade against me; she described me as a “kapo” and “notorious Jew hater.” Geller then claimed, “I have no idea what this rally is,” and went on to attack the heavily-promoted, well-publicized demonstration as a “half-assed effort,” calling it, “harmful to the cause of freedom of expression.”
It is always amusing when leaders of groups that openly promote genocide against religious minorities and other out-class members accuse their followers of crossing a red line, as though there is any threshold they will not cross. Usually these moments arise from the kind of ugly leadership struggles that are common to proto-fascist movements comprised of neurotic and otherwise psychologically dysfunctional individuals (see the demise of the Minutemen for an example). Such a scenario appears to have prompted Geller’s screed.
As a stereotypical, shrieking figure who exhibits the classically sadomasochistic pathology of authoritarian demagogues — the simultaneous drive to destroy the weak and worship power — Geller is utterly incapable of summoning any moral opposition to the raw racism that was on display at Park51. After all, she played a central role in inciting the ugly spectacle.
Thus it appears Geller’s attempt to distance herself from the rally is purely cynical, the result of a row between her and the group that organized the rally, The Coalition To Honor Ground Zero. Richard Bartholomew speculated that Geller may have flown into a petulant frenzy over the pointed exclusion of her outfit, Stop The Islamization Of America, from the protest. Acrimony between her and Tom Trento of the Florida Security Council over the handling of a past anti-Muslim initiative may have also provoked her snit. Whatever the reason, it is increasingly clear that Geller is going to extreme lengths to keep the movement under her heel; any event planned outside the purview of her organization presents a direct threat to her celebrity and paycheck.
Geller’s claim that she had “no idea” about the August 22 rally is ridiculous. According to the Daily Caller, “Beth Gilinsky, an organizer for The Coalition to Honor Ground Zero and founder of the Jewish Action Alliance, is coordinating the rally.” And Gilinsky and Geller have worked hand-in-glove for years. At the April 25 Stand With Israel rally in New York City, Gilinsky introduced Geller as “a very dear friend” for whom she holds “enormous admiration.” (Geller proceeded to wave a scarf reading “Yid Army” before the crowd, making a cartoonish attempt at Jewish ethnic identification while at the same time expressing her admiration for violent British football hooligans.) Geller has also lavished praise on Gilinsky, hailing her as one of the “warriors” who attempted to stop the Khalil Gibran Academy from opening in Brooklyn.
Considering that Geller and Gilinsky spearheaded the campaign against the Girban Academy and that they at least claim to be “very dear” friends, it is hard to imagine that Geller had “no idea” that Gilinsky and company were planning a major rally on August 22. So Geller is simply deceiving her readers. And given that many of those on the list of organizations and individual racists supporting The Coalition To Honor Ground Zero are scheduled to appear at the rally Geller is planning on 9-11 against Cordoba House, Geller appears to be disparaging her own allies as well, conceding that they are in fact a bunch of deranged, potentially violent bigots whose actions are “harmful to the cause of freedom of expression.”
It is up to Geller to explain to her readers why she is lying to them and why she holds her confederates in such contempt. Until then, she can respond to the following questions:
1. Does Geller condemn the August 22 Park 51 rally or not? Put up or shut up.
2. Does Geller condemn the groups and individuals associated with the “half-assed” and “harmful” effort?
3. If Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s illegitimate child as Geller has claimed, is Geller the mistress of Mel Gibson?
4. If Geller is such a good Jew, why does she endorse a British fascist group that is led by anti-Semitic skinheads and is connected to the whites-only British National Party?
5. Does Geller condemn Glenn Beck as an anti-Semite for saying the Jews killed Jesus? Yes or no. Anti-semitism, yes or no.
Conservative columnist George Will was recently in Israel. His trip resulted in a series of laughably error-laden columns revealing not only a crude view of the Israel-Palestine conflict and obsequious admiration for Bibi Netanyahu, but a lack of knowledge about major historical events in his own country.
In his third column, Will begins his mutilation of history in a passage about the Peel Commission. He wrote:
In 1936, when the British administered Palestine, the Peel Commission concluded that there was “an irrepressible conflict” — a phrase coined by an American historian to describe the U.S. Civil War — “between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country.” And: “Neither of the two national ideals permits” a combination “in the service of a single state.” The commission recommended “a surgical operation” — partition. What followed was the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939.
Asad Abukhalil has already nailed Will for getting the date of the Peel Commission report wrong. It was 1937, not 1936. And the Arab Revolt broke out in Palestine before the Peel Commission introduced its findings. I would also add that David Ben Gurion privately accepted the Peel Commission’s recommendations because he saw them as the basis for a later partition that would gift the Zionist settler minority with major port cities like Jaffa and Haifa and throw the Palestinian Arabs back to the hinterlands. Moshe Sharett, a future prime minister of Israel, remarked about the Peel Commission, “the [Palestinian] Arab reaction would be negative because they would lose everything and gain almost nothing ….”
But leaving his distortions about the Arab Revolt aside, Will made a major error and has not been compelled to correct it. This proves the point Abukhalil makes again and again: “in the US, you can say anything about the Middle East provided it is done from a pro-Israeli perspective.”
In the same passage, the Princeton PhD made another huge error, attributing the phrase “irrepressible conflict” to an unnamed “American historian.” I don’t know where Will got his citation from (some Wikipedia entry?) but it did not reflect well on his claim to expertise on American politics. Even amateur scholars of the Civil War know that the phrase was coined by then-Senator William Seward in his famous speech in 1858.
Will’s tendency to err and distort was also on bold display in his first column from Israel, a boot-licking ode to the leadership qualities of Netanyahu. In the column, Will repeated a widely discredited tale that Netanyahu first told at AIPAC:
Nevertheless, a display case in Netanyahu’s office could teach the Obama administration something about this leader. It contains a small signet stone that was part of a ring found near the Western Wall. It is about 2,800 years old — 200 years younger than Jerusalem’s role as the Jewish people’s capital. The ring was the seal of a Jewish official, whose name is inscribed on it: Netanyahu.
What is Bibi Netanyahu’s connection to the ring, and by extension, to the ancient land of Israel? There is none. His father, Benzion, changed his name from Milikovsky to Netanyahu after he emigrated from Lithuania to Palestine. Thus Bibi has a much closer relation to Sarah Palin, whose Lithuanian maternal grandfather was rumored to be a Jew, than to any late Bronze Age “Jewish official” from the Middle East.
To understand the sheer insanity of Netanyahu’s magical ring story, consider how I would be received if my grandfather, Hymie Blumenthal, changed his name to Hymie Quetzalcoatl, then I asserted a historical mandate to rule over Mexico because Quetzalcoatl was a diety of the inhabitants of the ancient Toltec city of Teotihuacan. I would have a hard time being taken as seriously as David Koresh or the Unabomber.
Was Bibi’s magical ring tale inspired by Wagner?
Perhaps Bibi’s tall tale was inspired Wagner’s Der Ring Des Nibelungen, an opera about a magic ring fashioned by a dwarf that grants its bearer the power to rule the world. In the opera, Bibi is Siegfried, the megalomaniacal son of Wotan who wages in a destructive conflict for the right to wear the ring. And Will is the opera critic who writes a review of the fictional performance as though it were a real life historical event.
Fresh off a campaign of nationwide intimidation against the New Israel Fund, countless damaging personal attacks against leftists and professors condemned as insufficiently Zionist, and an endorsement from Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, the self-proclaimed “moderate” student group Im Tirtzu gathered for a night of celebration. The venue was “Theodore,” a swanky bar in the wealthy Tel Aviv suburb of Herzilya named for the man who Im Tirtzu claims as the inspiration for its “Second Zionist Revolution:” Theodore Herzl. The evening’s agenda: to fire up the troops for the upcoming boycott targeting Ben Gurion University’s supposedly anti-Zionist faculty.
At the door of the bar stood a glowering young man munching on a slice of pizza. He was Erez Tadmor, Im Tirtzu’s director of media relations. Tadmor approached us and asked who we were. We described ourselves as clueless Jewish American tourists who were simply curious about his student group. “We just heard there was some kind of party here,” we said in English.
Without bothering to introduce himself, Tadmor discussed his man-size persecution complex. “At Hebrew University I did so much damage to the professors I can’t even walk around freely on campus anymore,” he remarked. “Most of the academics here are anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. They have the audacity to say that Israel is an apartheid state, that we’re colonizers, that we kill kids. And so we are simply trying to defend our Zionist values against what they’re doing.”
Despite the subversive culture on campus, Tadmor was confident he would crush the evil-doers: “The elites are on the losing side. They only represent like 3 percent of the population who are radical leftist. But we have 70 to 80 percent of the people on our side.”
Who is Tadmor? The scion of the only secular family in the fanatical Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, Tadmor now lives in the settlement of Efrat with his wife and two children. He made his name directing the student cell that fought the evacuation of the settlement Gush Katif, then turned his attention to assailing cultural critics of Israeli maximalism. “The [Oscar-nominated Israeli film] Waltz With Bashir is a vehicle to destroy Zionism,” Tadmor once declared. “The director should have made a film about Herzl in the place of this.”
In an interview with Maariv, a leading Israeli newspaper, Tadmor admitted to stealing small-scale explosives and ammunition magazines from the army during his service. Despite insisting that he needed the weapons for “personal security,” Tadmor was stripped of his rank and slapped with a 45-day prison sentence for “breaking the trust” of the army.
During Operation Cast Lead, Tadmor orchestrated a series of violent confrontations between Im Tirtzu activists and Palestinian Israeli students at Hebrew University. An Im Tirtzu banner warned the Arab students, “We will burn your villages and see you during our reserve duty.” Tadmor was implicated for physically attacking female students who called him a “Nazi.” The riots sparked by Tadmor and Im Tirtzu were only quelled when university administrators demanded the deployment of Border Police and special Yassam forces on campus.
After chatting with Tadmor, two Im Tirtzu activists approached us to discuss campus politics in the United States. One of them, a chubby, slouching young man with a crew cut, asked, “Have you ever read ‘The Professors’ by David Horowitz? Horowitz was a former leftist so he knows the truth about the left in your country.” With his failed “Academic Bill of Rights” campaign, which would have allowed conservative students to sue their professors, and his annual “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” the ex-Stalinist Horowitz seemed like a natural role model for Im Tirtzu’s McCarthyite missions.
The other activist, Tamir Kafri, a bespectacled and chipper student with a long ponytail and newly budding facial hair, mentioned another American inspiration: “You should read the book, ‘Liberal Fascism,’” Tamir said, referring to neocon writer Jonah Goldberg’s screed linking American liberalism to Hitlerian fascists. “I’m not saying all liberals are fascists, but on campus here in Israel, the liberal professors really are.”
Tamir led us inside and perched beside us at the bar. As dozens of his comrades filed in, he ordered a pony size Goldstar and opened up about the struggle he was waging as coordinator of Im Tirtzu at Ben Gurion University.
Tamir dismissed the hundreds of thousands of donations pumped into Im Tirtzu’s coffers each year by the apocalyptic Christian Zionist preacher Pastor John Hagee, who has said the anti-Christ would be “half-Jewish, as Hitler was.” “Who cares about who takes the money?” Tamir said. “People should focus on the donors and not on us. Like this neo-Nazi American pastor [John Hagee]. He’s the idiot! He’s giving all his money to a bunch of ZIonist Jews in Israel!”
As the beer flowed, Tamir entertained us with his opinions on everything from Zionism to domestic violence.
Tamir on campus politics: “[The Israeli communist party] Hadash is a bunch of pro-Palestinian radicals. But we’ve worked with Meretz. We even have some members of Meretz in our movement. They are the sensible left. They’re Zionists, not radicals.”
On the left: “Radical leftists are like gunpowder. By itself it’s harmless but next to a gun it becomes violently dangerous.”
On the Palestinians: “Actually there is no such thing as a Palestinian. Really. You know, the idea of the Palestinians was invented in the 1970’s?”
On the Eden Abergil photos: “The pictures were just funny. Face it.”
On Zionism: “Zionism is about securing a Jewish state where human rights are unconditional for everyone, including Arabs, but civil rights are conditional, based on someone’s loyalty to the recognition of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist state… I even know a couple Muslim Zionists. Like my friend from the army, he was Druze and he went to jail because he beat his cousin so badly.” Why did he beat his cousin? “Because he said he shouldn’t be fighting for Israel.”
On feminism: “I’m a true feminist. If a woman hits me I’ll hit her back just as hard. That’s feminism!”
While Tamir continued riffing beneath a thumping soundtrack of 70’s disco hits, we looked around the room and noticed an almost total absence of women. Indeed, the bartender seemed to be the only member of the female gender interacting with the dozens of Im Tirtzu activists hunched over the bar. “Were any women invited your party?” we asked our new friend. “Because this is starting to look like the mother of all sausage-fests.”
Tamir looked around nervously, then exclaimed, “People show up late in Israel because we have no last call.”
20 minutes later, a woman appeared. But she was just the wife of Tamir’s pal, a short, bookish-looking character, who greeted him with a hearty bear hug. “This guy acted with me in the Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Tamir said about his friend, referring to the 70’s era British drag-show that has become popular across Israel.
“I actually had to borrow a corset from my wife for the show!” the friend told us with a giggle.
Besides working as a genetic engineer at the Weissman Institute, Tamir’s friend was a front-line soldier in the Im Tirtzu struggle. He said he became enraged when he saw an art exhibition in the city of Holon that depicted Israeli army helicopters bombing civilians and soldiers humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints. He immediately called Im Tirtzu founder Ronen Shoval to complain. The next day, he was a full-fledged activist.
“If the army did this sort of thing, it would be okay, because the art would have been factual,” the friend remarked. “But the army doesn’t do that! I was in the infantry so I know.”
Despite his indignation, the friend was intent on talking about the Rocky Horror Picture Show production he and Tamir starred in. “You know what the play really was?” he said to Tamir. “It was a hook-up scene for geeks!” They burst into mischievous laughter, as though they were watching scrambled porn while their mother did laundry in the basement.
The Im Tirtzu theme song: “A weakling weighing 98 pounds, got sand in his face when kicked to the ground…”
Tamir related one of his favorite Rocky Horror-related conquests. “There was a radical leftist girl who acted with us in the play,” he recalled.
“She was so radical she thought Noam Chomsky was a fascist!” the friend interjected.
“Yeah, so anyway, I fucked her one night,” Tamir boasted. “And while I was fucking her, I said, ‘Oh you’re so against Israel, and the occupation is so evil. Okay!’ Then, as soon as I came, I pulled out and said, ‘Sorry, no orgasm for you!”
At this moment, as we glanced around the room full of twenty-something guys huddled around on couches, fiddling with their cellphones and exchanging jocular back-slaps, we gained a new understanding of Im Tirtzu’s essential function. The movement was not only a street-level proxy for rightist forces in the government. It also served as a social sanctuary for aimless young men unable to locate productive outlets for their pent-up post-army aggressions. Long sessions of Playstation and back issues of Maxim were simply not enough for the rejects of Israel’s warrior class. They needed a glorious battle — even if the targets were defenseless and marginalized. And so they have identified enemies in every faculty lounge and editorial page, hoping to quell their sense of isolation by defining themselves as heroic Zionists waging jihad against the “elitist” fringe. Their sensitivity to “anti-Zionist bias” is in fact a projection of their own psychological insecurity.
Im Tirtzu has been portrayed by critics as a fearsome gang of dangerous thugs, but in the more casual setting of the Theodore bar, we saw the movement for what it really was: a well-financed dork squad.
After Ronen Shoval gave a speech announcing the coming onslaught against Ben Gurion University — “My grandmother was so proud to see us on the front page of Ha’aretz!” he announced — we noticed two young women downing shots of liquor across the bar. We went over to meet them.
“Are you guys with Im Tirtzu?” we asked.
“You mean the disgusting fascists?” one of them snapped.
“We hate them!” the other one said.
After a long interview process that included the examination of our ID cards, they established that we were not members of the “fascist” crowd. Only then did they invite us to drink with them.
The women eventually apologized for vetting us, explaining that an Im Tirtzu member seated beside them at the bar had attempted to chat them up earlier in the evening.
One of the women grabbed the Im Tirtzu activist’s arm and shouted at him, “Are you ready to stop being a narrow-minded racist? Then you can talk to us.”
Is there anything shocking about the Facebook photos showing the Israeli female soldier Eden Abergil posing in mocking positions next to bound and blindfolded Palestinian men? While her conduct was abominable, I did not find it especially distinct from the documented behavior of Israeli soldiers and Border Police in the Occupied Territories.
Below is a photo I took in Hebron in June before soldiers demanded that I stop shooting (I will release video from Hebron as soon as I get the chance). Scenes like these can be witnessed on any given day in the West Bank. Not only do they show the dehumanization that the Palestinian Morlocks are subjected to on an hourly basis, they depict the world where Abergil spent what she called “the most beautiful time of [her] life.” It is easy to see how young Israelis (or anyone) would be sapped of their humanity in such an environment.
In July, I waited inside the cafeteria of Israel’s Guantanamo-like Ofer Prison after watching Ibrahim Amira, a leader of the Ni’ilin popular committee, be sentenced by a kangaroo court to six months in prison for the trumped-up charge of “incitement” (he was accused of paying kids to throw rocks at the Israeli soldiers who invade their village at least every week, as if they needed encouragement). While I stood at the counter to order a coffee, I watched four female jailers gather around a laptop to check their Facebook pages. I wondered what their status updates looked like. If they wrote anything relating to their work, would their Facebook pages look different than Abergil’s? Of course not. Just take a trip to Eyal Niv’s blog and look at some of the photos other young Israelis are posting.
You don’t have to go to the West Bank or into an Israeli prison to recognize that Abergil is a typical product of Israel’s comprehensively militarized society. Just watch the documentary, “To See When I’m Smiling.” In the film, which tells the soul-crushing stories of four young women conscripted into the Israeli Army, one of the characters recounts posing for a photo beside a dead Palestinian man who had an erection. She was smiling from ear to ear in the photo. However, at the end of the film, when she is compelled to look at the picture for the first time in two years, she does not recognize the monster who bears her image. Her contorted facial expression seems to ask, “Who was I?”
“To See When I’m Smiling” was produced by Breaking The Silence, a human rights group formed by ex-Israeli soldiers who collect testimonies from their peers. Incidentally, Breaking The Silence has published a 132-page booklet of testimonies by female soldiers (PDF here) who participated in acts at least as hideous as those depicted on Abergil’s Facebook page.
Here is Testimony 63, by a female sergeant from the Nahal Unit who served in Mevo Dotan:
I recall once, this was after we moved to Mevo Dotan, to the base there, some Palestinian was sitting on a chair and I passed by several times. Once I thought: Okay, why is he sitting here for an hour? I feel like spitting at him, at this Arab. And they tell me: Go one, spit at him. I don’t recall whether anyone did this before I did, but I remember spitting at him and feeling really, like at first I felt, wow, good for me, I just spat at some terrorist, that’s how I’d call them. And then I recall that afterwards I felt some thing here was not right.
Not too human. I mean, it sounds cool and all, but no, it’s not right.
You thought about later, or during the act?
Later. At the time you felt real cool.
Even when everyone was watching, you felt real cool.
Yes, and then sometimes you get to thinking, especially say on Holocaust Memorial Day, suddenly you’re thinking, hey, these thing were done to us, it’s a human being after all. Eventually as things turned out he was no terrorist anyway, it was a kid who’d hung around too long near the base, so he was caught or something.
Blindfolded and all?
Yes. I think that at some point no one even stood watch over him.
The female sergeant recalled the Holocaust when she reflected on her actions. If you are raised in a Jewish home, it is difficult not to see the ravages of the occupation in the light of the Holocaust, regardless of whether you know that the Israeli army’s violence bears little comparison to the exterminationism of the Nazis. Just as when I watched “To See When I’m Smiling,” Abergil’s photos made me think of Costa Gavras’ haunting Holocaust film, “Music Box.” If you have seen it, you will understand my reference. If not, rent it.
I also thought of the first stanza of “Vision,” a poem by the Palestinian writer Muhammad al-Qaisi. The poem reminded me not only of the Abergil’s public unmasking, but also of the many Israelis who told me about their experiences in the army as though they were describing some morally debased person they had never met:
I see the faces change their complexion
peel off their outer skin
I see the faces divested
of makeup and masks
and I see an empty stage
the spectators denying their own images
in the third act.
Since publishing his long piece about the likelihood of a preemptive Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, “The Point Of No Return,” Jeffrey Goldberg has been accused by foreign policy writers from Hillary and Flynt Leverett to Stephen Walt to Tony Karon of using his access to top Israeli officials to promote Israeli military aggression. That was transparently obvious to me after reading his piece.
But what struck me as even more striking was the extent to which Goldberg’s writing reminded me of the screeds of rapture-ready Christian Zionist fanatic Pastor John Hagee, who has lusted for an Israeli attack on Iran for years and has used his access to figures like Netanyahu to sell his flock on the war. Indeed, Goldberg and Hagee have shared many of the same high-level Israeli sources and appeared to accept their dire predictions at face value; both Goldberg and Hagee predicted an Israeli strike on Iran by the spring (Hagee issued his brilliant prophecy in 2006); and both accepted and appeared to promote the Israeli view that Iran poses a grave threat not just to Israel, but to all of Western civilization.
Is there any significant distinction between Goldberg’s analysis and Hagee’s? And are either reliable? Compare Goldberg’s latest piece with statements made by Hagee in an interview by conservative activist Robert Bluey and you be the judge:
Israel will attack by the spring…
Jeffrey Goldberg, 9/10: What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran.
Pastor John Hagee, 3/16/06: Israel will engage Iran before the end of May!
Bibi told me some frightening things in a special meeting…
Goldberg, 9/10: I have been exploring the possibility that such a strike will eventually occur for more than seven years, since my first visit to Tehran, where I attempted to understand both the Iranian desire for nuclear weapons and the regime’s theologically motivated desire to see the Jewish state purged from the Middle East, and especially since March of 2009, when I had an extended discussion about the Iranian nuclear program with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hagee, 3/16/06: Several years ago, former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sat in my office and told me that when he was Prime Minister he gave to America’s intelligence community photographic proof that Russian scientist were helping the Iranians develop medium range missiles that had the ability to reach Europe and Jerusalem.
Iran is a threat to “to western civilization…”
Goldberg, 9/10: In our conversation before his swearing in, Netanyahu would not frame the issue in terms of nuclear parity… Instead, he framed the Iranian program as a threat not only to Israel but to all of Western civilization.
Hagee, 3/16/06: Iran is a threat to western civilization … not just to Israel. Iran with nuclear weapons will be the world’s worst nightmare.
Boogie Ya’alon is a reliable source…
Goldberg, 4/09 (from his first account of his interview w/Netanyahu): One of [Netanyahu's] chief security advisers, Moshe Ya’alon, told me that a nuclear Iran could mean the end of American influence in the Middle East. “This is an existential threat for Israel, but it will be a blow for American interests, especially on the energy front. Who will dominate the oil in the region—Washington or Tehran?”
Hagee, 3/16/06: Former IDF Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon, expressed confidence [in an interview with me] that Israel’s anti-missile systems could protect the country, whether missiles are fired directly from Iran, by the Hizbullah launchers amassed along Israel’s northern border or through Kassam rockets being amassed within Judea and Samaria. “Israel is able to strike at Iran in a number of ways, not just through air strikes,” Ya’alon added.
“The Negev affords me the pleasure of watching a wasteland develop into the most fruitful portion of Israel by a totally Jewish act of creation.” –David Ben Gurion, Memoirs
In the middle of the night on August 10, residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Arakib sent a panicked text message to Israeli activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israeli police helicopters were buzzing overhead, surveying the scene ahead of what was likely to be a new round of demolitions. Three activists staying in the village had been nabbed during a night raid. Having already witnessed the razing of their homes twice in the past two weeks, the residents of Al-Arakib expected the third round of demolitions to arrive tonight, on the eve of Ramadan. During Ramadan, when the villagers fasted all day, the police and Israeli Land Adminstration reasoned they would be too weakened to rebuild — it was prime time for destruction.
I arrived in Al-Arakib at 3 AM with a handful of Jerusalem-based activists. A local couple hauled out mattresses and blankets and poured us small cups of coffee. “I’ve had enough of sleeping,” the man grumbled as he reclined next to his wife. He seemed grateful to have company. I laid down and stared at the desert sky, listening to the man describe in a lulled tone the experience of watching his neighbors’ homes crumple under the teeth of bulldozers again and again. As he trailed off, I heard a low droning sound in the distance. Were they here already? I looked around at the others. No one to register the slightest sign of concern. Finally, I slipped into a light slumber.
Two hours later I was torn from my sleep. “They’re here!” someone shouted in Hebrew. I leapt from my mattress and scrambled up a dune until I reached the center of the village. A phalanx of one hundred riot cops had assembled in a tight formation. They were bristling with assault weapons and centurion shields. Flanked by bulldozers, the police quickly ringed the activists and journalists, who numbered about two dozen, and began forcibly pushing them away from the site of the demolitions. Their intention seemed to be to prevent any brave souls from standing between the bulldozers and the homes they sought to destroy. Dispatched by a faceless network of clerks and engineers in air-conditioned offices to do the dirty work of the state, the police performed their duty with cold efficiency.
As the bulldozers trundled around the village, tearing tarps from plywood pylons, crushing tin roofs, and dragging the shattered structures into hulking piles, the villagers watched with resignation. Seated on her bed in the naked desert, a girl wiped a few tears from her eyes, grimacing at the sight before her. On a nearby hill, a man quizzed his daughter on surahs from the Quran before sending her to collect mattresses from beneath the dusty waste of what used to be their sleeping quarters. An old woman stood impassively by a flock of birds perched on the collapsed remains of her house. Dispossession and homelessness have become nearly mundane in Al-Arakib.
The villagers remain devoted to the nomadic Bedouin tradition. (Why else would they resist with such tenacity the Israeli government’s plan to resettle them in one of the Indian reservation-style “development communities” the state has created for them?) However, they have established a permanent presence in the areas around their village that pre-dates the foundation of Israel. Al-Arakib’s cemetery, for example, contains the graves dating back to the end of the 19th century. Yet the Bedouins’ historical claim to the Negev has not convinced the state that they deserve legal recognition. Nor have their attempts to demonstrate their loyalty by serving as front-line combat soldiers in the Israeli Army. In the eyes of the state, the Arabs of the Negev are at best quasi-human.
In 1953, the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben Gurion (original name: David Gryn) moved to Sde Boker, a kibbutz in the Negev. A self-described messianist who rejected the existence of God while simultaneously describing the Torah as his political guidebook, Ben Gurion saw the Negev as a blank slate for realizing his revolutionary fever dreams. In his memoirs, he fantasized about evacuating Tel Aviv and settling five million Jews in small settlements throughout the Negev. Just as he disdained the cosmopolitan spirit of Tel Aviv’s urbanists, Ben Gurion was disgusted by the sight of the open desert, describing it as “a criminal waste.” In the place of sand dunes, he imagined a Jewish replica of Northern Europe.
“When I look out of my window and see a tree standing [in the Negev],” Ben Gurion wrote, “that tree gives me a greater sense of beauty and personal delight than all the vast forests I have seen in Switzerland or Scandinavia… Not only because I helped to grow them but because they constitute a gift of man to Nature, and a gift of the Jews to the cradle of their culture.”
With the ethnocentric Ashkenazi outlook of Labor Zionism, Ben Gurion held deep contempt for non-European cultures. He denigrated the Jews who had immigrated to Israel from Arab countries as “savage” and as “a primitive community” that reveres pimps and thieves. But he at least acknowledged their existence in Israeli society. In his writings about the Negev, Ben Gurion did not once mention the presence of the tens of thousands of Arab Beduoins whose villages abutted his kibbutz. To him, their culture was void; they lived in a “wasteland.” They were obstacles to his utopian vision, not human beings.
Today the Israeli government remains committed to fulfilling Ben Gurion’s fantasies even though the Israeli public has completely turned its back on the Negev. “It seems that the fantasies grow stronger especially when the Jews do not move to live in the desert,” the Israeli blogger Eyal Niv wrote. “The more the Jews back away from the desert, the more their leaders toughen the force, frequency, and cruelty of the expulsion of its other residents.”
In the areas in and around Al-Arakib, just 5 km north of the city of Beersheva, the Jewish National Fund is in the process of planting the “Ambassador Forest.” The forest will cover the land inhabited for over 100 years by the residents of Al-Arakib and prevent them from ever returning. The “Blueprint Negev” plan of the Jewish National Fund, an organization that claims to be acting “on behalf of Jewish people everywhere,” can only be realized through harsh military force, the razing of villages, and ultimately, ethnic cleansing. The meting out of these practices against citizens of Israel should raise serious questions about the country’s claim to uphold democratic values.
After the Israeli Police completed their third demolition of Al-Arakib, the villagers collected the remains of their homes and, with the assistance of a few international and Jewish Israeli activists, began rebuilding again. Without any recourse from the state or its courts, they have no other option but to start over from scratch. And they have nowhere else to go.
With the Cordoba House controversy, the mainstream press has suddenly discovered that the Anti-Defamation League is more than willing to give sanction to bigotry. But the ADL has a long history of allowing cynical political calculations to trump its professed concerns about racism.
In a virtually unknown and unreported event in 1999, the ADL pointedly refused to condemn Richard Quinn, a leading white nationalist publisher who had come under fire for his history of promoting racist screeds before taking a job as a consultant for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. Though the ADL initially expressed concern about Quinn’s role on the McCain campaign, it backed off for reasons that appeared to relate to the calculated “pro-Israel” line of Quinn’s magazine.
The episode began after John McCain’s surprising victory in the 1999 New Hampshire Republican primary. Controversy ensued when the New Republic’s Benjamin Soskis revealed that McCain had hired the longtime editor of Southern Partisan Magazine, Richard Quinn, as a consultant. Quinn came under fire from Soskis and many others for editing a neo-Confederate magazine that promoted white nationalist themes. For his part, Quinn had authored an editorial in his publication denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “vitriolic and profane;” attacked Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” and a “bad egg;” and wrote the following about the KKK’s former Imperial Wizard-cum-Louisiana GOP gubernatorial candidate: “What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke? What better way to tweak the nose of the establishment?”
As the bad press piled up, and reporters discovered gems like the ad in Southern Partisan for a t-shirt emblazoned with a Republican elephant logo that read, “Lincoln’s Worst Nightmare!” Quinn began to work his contacts. Finally, his friend Sam Tennenbaum, who served at the time on the ADL’s advisory board, intervened in his defense, ensuring that the ADL did not condemn the Southern Partisan or disturb the McCain campaign about employing an avowed neo-Confederate.
In my recent post about the “summer camp of destruction,” I cited figures from Israeli social psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal’s survey on the political attitudes of Jewish Israeli high school students. In polling conducted in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Bar-Tal found that a majority of Israeli high schoolers favored at least some form of apartheid, and that the desire for apartheid among religious nationalist youth was nearly universal. The disturbing findings have been generally read as a reflection of Israel’s comprehensive shift to the hard right since the collapse of the so-called peace process (see Bar-Tal’s polling on Israeli attitudes toward territorial concessions here). But there is considerable evidence that a majority of Jewish Israeli youth had been been successfully conditioned to consent to indiscriminate violence against Arabs well before the most recent phase of radicalization, and years before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza even began.
Akiva Orr was a founder of the leftist group Matzpen, the first organized Israeli group to renounce Zionism and urge a joint struggle with Palestinians against the occupation. Orr has been a swimming champion in Mandate Palestine, a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence, a neighbor of David Ben Gurion, and a leader of the movement to free Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu (who is finishing out a grueling prison sentence for violating the onerous terms of his release). His unique perspective makes him one of the most valuable but under-acknowledged analysts of Israeli society from its earliest days.
In his excellent collection of essays, “Israel: Politics, Myths, and Identity Crises,” Orr explored in detail the political attitudes of the generation born in independent Israel immediately after 1948. He identified the first curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education as a key factor in the radicalization of this generation of youth. Orr wrote, “Already in the early 1950’s special lessons on ‘Jewish consciousness’ were introduced into all schools to inculcate Jewish identity into the minds of the very young. These lessons present Jewish history as a unique — and inexplicable — martyrology… The motto is: ‘Masada will never fall again.’”
Orr described a document that exposed the consequences of indoctrinating the young and impressionable: A 1963 poll published by the Israeli psychologist G. Tamarin entitled, “A Pilot Study in Chauvinism: The Influence of Ethnico-Religious Prejudices on Moral Judgment.” Tamarin’s research compiled responses by over 1000 Jewish Israeli schoolchildren of ages 8 to 14 to two texts. (The children represented a broad range of social groups and classes spanning the whole of Israeli society — only Arab students were exempted). The first part of the first text presented to the children read: