(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Most religious right-wing Israelis won’t be celebrating New Year’s Eve on Thursday night, and rightly so. Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish New Year, and there is something that goes against the grain in holding what’s termed “Sylvester celebrations” in the Jewish state, given that these festivities take the name of the December 31 saint’s day of Pope Sylvester.
As pope (314-335 CE), Sylvester oversaw the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem and during the Council of Nicea arranged for the passing of various anti-Semitic legislation. All in all, not a great excuse to throw a party.
But at the same time, by ignoring the secular New Year festivities, the right-wing religious public is also missing the opportunity to make some New Year resolutions so, as a public service, allow me to suggest a couple.
Stop acting like victims.
As Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of Bayit Yehudi, told a conference of headmasters and teachers in the religious education system last week, the country’s security establishment is not out to persecute the settler movement.
Rather, the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) is fulfilling its mandate to protect the state from those who would wish to destroy it, in this case people who want to replace Israeli democracy with a fundamentalist Torah-led system of law. If charged and convicted, the suspected murderers of the Dawabshe family are nothing more than terrorists. As Bennett said: “Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to advance a political agenda, and that is the exact definition of what they are doing. They’re burning people to destroy the state.”
Unfortunately, this message has not yet resonated among Bayit Yehudi’s electorate or elected officials. For as long as Uri Ariel, the Temple Mount pyromaniac, remains a cabinet minister, the settler extremists have their representative in government, seeking to undermine the rule of law. Ariel’s call to close, “the sooner the better,” the division of the Shin Bet responsible for dealing with the terrorist threat emanating from Jewish extremists should have seen him immediately dismissed from his position in government.
Meanwhile the demonstrations against the Shin Bet’s investigation of the Duma suspects, with their self-righteous placards “Stop hurting our children”; “We’re all with the heroes”; “Fight terror, not Jews” show how warped these people’s worldview has become. Shin Bet interrogations are undoubtedly unpleasant, but if, as most Israelis are, we are prepared to accept the use of exceptional methods against Palestinian terrorism suspects, then the same must be true for Jewish terrorism suspects.
The sudden interest in human rights, as expressed in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from settler leaders calling on him to “stop the madness” and “immediately investigate the serious charges that minors have been tortured, which constitutes a grave violation of human rights” further highlights the hypocrisy of the Israeli Right. When left-wing Israelis accuse the Shin Bet of human rights violations against Palestinian suspects, the Right are quick to label them traitors, but obviously it’s a different matter if it’s settler youths behind bars.
And, at the end of the day, the religious Right should remember that they are in power, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history ruling the country, with kippa-wearing men holding the levers of power in the police, Shin Bet and Mossad. They can’t play the victim card anymore.
Stop feigning ignorance.
The professions of shock at the video footage of the wedding “celebrations” in which young men danced with automatic rifles, knives, Molotov cocktails, screaming for revenge on Palestinians and stabbing a photo of the murdered toddler Ali Dawabshe do not convince anybody.
The existence of a hard-core, out-of-control group of settler youths is not news to anybody.
The night before Channel 10 news broadcast the video, there was a terrorist attack in the Palestinian village of Beitillu near Ramallah, in which smoke grenades were thrown into a house while its residents were asleep. Fortunately, unlike the incident in Duma, there were no casualties this time around.
The list of settler youth attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian property is long and disturbing and yet every time an incident breaks new boundaries of bad taste or raises the bar for violence, settler leaders and right-wing politicians sound amazed that such a thing could have happened.
Enough of this pretense. These youths come from the very heart of the settlement movement; they are the results of its educational system.
And they are not alone, they are surrounded by a supporting environment including rabbis, friends, family and others like them.
The settler movement needs to put its house in order, and quickly, unless it wants to see more of its youths under interrogation in the Shin Bet’s basements.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.