The State of Israel and the Issue of Jewish Extremism

The alarming footages of extremist Jewish youngsters stabbing the picture of a toddler, Ali dawabsha, killed in an arson attack in July 2015, resulting in the indictment of two young people, Amiram Ben-Uliel and a minor, whose name has not been disclosed, suspected of setting ablaze the house of the Dawabsha’s, have shown a deeper divide, which the State of Israel has been fighting against for many decades between a democratic socio-political view and an extremist, religiously motivated setting. The way the Israeli society and authorities respond to such a phenomenon will determine their domestic and international standings and future.

The State of Israel and the Issue of Jewish Extremism - (cr: Reuters - Mussa Qawasma)

The variety of the targets of Jewish extremism

Through the decades, many are the groups and individuals that have been labelled as extremist or even terrorist by the Israeli enforcement authorities. Brit HaKanaim, Malchut Yisrael, Gush Emunim Underground, Keshet, Bat Ayin, Lehava, Sikrim, Kach and Kahane Chai, Yaakov Teitel, Eden Natan-Zada, Baruch Goldstein, and Yigal Amir are only a few of the names. In some circumstances their extremism was focused on Israeli political figures and the State of Israel itself, in other cases on Arabs.

While extremism against the Arab population is motivated by national reasons and is characterized by price tag attacks and propaganda on the ethnic rights over the land, different is the case when this extremism has the Israeli authorities as a target. In this circumstance a whole interpretation of Jewish laws is involved.

When it comes to Israeli political figures and any act against them, such as killing, this is motivated by the accusation of betraying the Jewish people and their cause. When acts include murders, the “justification” is often found in a perverted understanding of the rule of “din rodef”, law of the pursuer. This rule is the religious understanding of the principle of self-defence and affirms that it is legitimate to execute immediately an individual that tries to take yours or someone else’s life. In the case of Yitzhak Rabin, killed by Yigal Amir, the “accusation” was based on being a traitor of the Jewish cause on Eretz Yizrael HaShlema because of the negotiation with the PLO and the signing of the Oslo Accords. According to Amir, these accords would have endangered the life of Jews, therefore indirectly attempting to take the life of the Jewish population. Although this religious argument has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of rabbinical authorities, it still finds followers.

Jewish extremism has often had the State of Israel itself, through its authorities such as the police and the army, as a target. These groups or individuals see the State of Israel as a political entity whose first duty is to defend the Jews, even before enforcing law and order. In this case their understanding of the raison d’être of the existence of the State of Israel reaches the point of expecting to be allowed to speak and act as they feel most suitable. When this option is barred, then the State is considered “apostate” and as such it is necessary to fight against it. Many circumstances and issues have risen where groups or individuals have rioted against and clashed with the police or army.

On January 3rd, 2016 the newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported an analysis made by the Shin Bet (the domestic security services of the State of Israel) about these phenomena. We report an extract of this analysis: “But officials at the Shin Bet said on Sunday that to view the horrific Duma attack as one incident would be to miss the larger phenomenon behind this act of terrorism: the emergence, since October 2013, of an underground movement of dozens of Jewish fanatical activists, who have set themselves the goal of toppling the state, replacing it with a “Judean monarchy,” and building a third temple, while expelling non-Jews from the land and creating a fundamentalist theocracy led by a king. The number of youths who subscribe to such ideas is very small – no more than a few dozen – but each one has the potential to carry out another attack and ignite the region, according to the Shin Bet. Today, between 20 and 30 potential terrorists are capable of carrying out a “second Duma,” the intelligence agency said on Sunday.” (Yaakov Lappin, Analysis: The Duma Terrorist and the ‘Judean Monarchy’ ideology, The Jerusalem Post, January 3, 2016)

The dangers for the State of Israel and its response to Jewish extremism

The dangers for the State of Israel concern law and order, anti-democratic drifts spread throughout the civil society, social clashes, bad image abroad, and a lot more.

Some of the aspects that particularly alarm the Israeli authorities concern the presence of rotten apples in the army and the bad impact that such occurrences have on international media, therefore increasing the pressure on it. Many of the youngsters that are part of these extremist groups that serve in the army are often subjected to disciplinary actions following deeds against the Arab population and in disobedience of orders. For a country that is often under the scrutiny of the international community, acts against the Arab population are often picked by the international media and arena as “silently sponsored by the government.”

Following these incidents, the word “Zionism”, where as such we understand the demands for Jewish self-determination in their ancient land, becomes loaded with some of the worst epithets as it is viewed by Israel’s detractors as the political and ideological umbrella to justify such actions, along with land grabbing and ethnic cleansing of the Arab population.

In such context the State of Israel finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend itself against anti-Israel standings in the international arena and in the civil society. In such sense, the most active movement against the State of Israel is the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS), a transnational movement that has rooted all over the world, especially in business and academic environments.

In this context though, an aspect should be noted. The strength of a democracy does not stand on the population’s or individuals’ actions, but on the way the authorities react when despicable occurrences take place. In the case of the State of Israel, usually immediate decisions are taken to thwart these phenomena. Israel usually use the iron fist against Jewish extremism. The way the authorities will re-affirm law and order, along with the way the civil society will deal with these drifts, will set the path to Israel’s survival as democratic country.

The Israeli society is very fragmented. As every society it has to find its own anti-corps to such phenomena. Only time will say if it has been able to vanquish these extremist drifts.

Note: In this specific context we purposely focused on Israel and avoid a comparison with what happens with the Palestinian extremist groups in the Palestinian Territories under the control of the Palestinian Authority when similar phenomena arise. This choice is motivated by the attempt to avoid any kind of diatribe on the subject.