Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Extreme Israeli Right

There's been a disturbing spate of right-wing extremist incidents in the past few weeks and something needs to be done about it.

On June 3, 2009, in the wake of the dismantling of an illegal settler outpost in the West Bank, settlers set fire to a Palestinian field and re-established their presence in the area of the settlement that had just been removed. All as part of the strategy of some extremist settler of creating a "price tag" for the dismantling of any settlements. The idea being that it will cost Israel far more to remove the settlers--in terms of violence against Palestinians, retaliatory violence from Palestinians, and resources to remove settlements both for the first time, and after the extremists rebuild what was dismantled--than it will to leave them alone and send the IDF to defend them.

The next day, it came to light that several high ranking IDF officers in the command responsible for the West Bank received letters from extremist settlers threatening the officers and their families and laced with comparisons to Nazis and racist slurs. Meanwhile, settlers from the dismantled outposts (which are usually just trailers on a hilltop) began pouring concrete to begin the construction of permanent homes on the recently evacuated sites.

This type of behaviour is unacceptable in any country. Certainly the settlers involved in the activities above do not represent the views of the majority of Israelis or even the majority of settlers and it's true that all countries have their fringe elements, racists and bigots. In most countries, however, these fringe elements are not in a position where they can spark major regional conflicts or attract the attention of superpowers. As one of the threatened officers said: the state needs to do more to ensure that army officers who are charged with the defense of the state need not feel threatened when they are carrying out the policies of the government, especially when they are sound.

Another reason this type of behaviour is unacceptable is the reference to Nazism. In the year 2009, when charges of Nazism or comparison to the Nazis are laid against Israel, against Palestinians, Iranians or anyone else, the response must always be the same: Nobody today come close to what the Nazis and Hitler were like and wanted to do. There are genocides ongoing as this text is being written, but even they, with all their horror and criminality, do not approach the scope of the industrialized Nazi project of genocide. There are terrible people out there. People who smile at mass murder and call for more, but these are not Nazis. These are terrorists and murderers and officers in the IDF are least like the Nazis of them all, especially for removing settlements in a policy which will ultimately benefit Israel. These Nazi comparisons need to stop. This fallacious comparison serves only to distort or diminish either the Holocaust, the incident being compared, or both.

This article, that appeared on YNet criticizes both the extremism of some anti-Zionist religious Jews in Jerusalem and the activities of some of the violent extremist settler youth in the West Bank. The basis for this criticism seems to be that this type of activity is antithetical to Jewish values. This is undoubtedly true. One is reminded of the Talmudic story: A man approaches (in the original telling) Rabbi Hillel and says I will convert to Judaism if you can recite the entire Torah for me while standing one one foot. Rabbi Hillel stands one one foot and replies "love thy neighbour as thyself. The rest are just details. Now go and study." How can the activities of these extremists be reconciled with the teachings of Hillel? They cannot. Truly loving thy neighbour means helping him and doing good for him when you can. It does not mean exacting a price tag from him when you are punished for breaking the law.

The YNet article does not make this point very eloquently, but does, and one hopes this is correct, identify that the average Israeli is beginning to become fed-up with the shenanigans of these settler extremists and will soon demand a firm, forceful crackdown.

Let's see it then, because it's extremely disquieting to think that anyone may think that these extremist settlers, that operate outside the law are tolerated by Israel.

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