The latest right-wing Israeli insanity to grace the media in the run-up to today’s election is Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi Knesset candidate Jeremy Gimpel’s (number 14 on the party list) video in which he regales a Florida church audience will his dream of blowing up the Dome of the Rock and replacing it with the Third Temple. The speaker waxes enthusiastic asking his audience to imagine their joy at such an occasion. What such lunatics neglect of course, is the religious holy war that would ensue between Muslims and Jews. Or perhaps that’s just what such lunatics want since it will bring the End Times that much closer.
More recently, Gimpel has sloughed off the whole controversy as a joke, saying he meant to inject some humor into a lecture about the Book of Ezra (which indeed does require a few jokes to leaven its dullness). As proof, he offers the laughter of the church audience at his presentation. Which moves one to ask if perhaps Muslims would have laughed had they heard the same lecture. Apparently, humor is in the eyes of the beholder (or ears of the listener, in this case).
Gimpel is a native of Atlanta’s large Jewish community. You may recall that a year ago the editor of an Atlanta Jewish newspaper said that if Iran got the Bomb the Mossad should assassinate him (or words to that effect). The editor lost his job (mercifully), but clearly Atlanta is a hotbed of such ultra-nationalist extremism.
Gimpel’s party was founded by another American-Jew, Naftali Bennett, a former Netanyahu chief of staff who split from the Likud presumably because it wasn’t resolute enough in its support for the settler movement. Bennett and his party have come from virtually nowhere to a poll prediction of 15 seats in the coming Knesset. It would make him head of the third largest faction in the legislative body and a real kingmaker. He has said he would join a governing coalition, which would offer him a plum ministerial assignment. Perhaps foreign minister, if Lieberman decides he’d like to hob-nob with IDF generals in the next government as defense chief?
Though Bennett projects an image of sobriety and reasonableness in his political views, Gimpel clearly exposes its ugly hidden face. Ha-Bayit HaYehudi’s platform is far to the right of even Likud’s. It is a well-scrubbed, table-mannered version of the Kahanist parties led by Michael Ben Ari and Baruch Marzel.
Another American Jewish implant has graced the pages of the Israeli media over the past week or so, Jack Teitel. He was convicted by an Israeli court of being a murderous Jewish terrorist (why Ynetnews and others insist on putting quotation marks around the phrase “Jewish terrorist,” as if it couldn’t possibly be true is beyond me).
Israeli courts have a habit of closeting away their Jewish terrorists by declaring them mentally ill and sending them off to mental hospitals. Teitel’s attorney was angling for such treatment for his client, but the court wouldn’t have it this time. Perhaps because, unlike most garden-variety Jewish terrorists who only kill Arabs, Teitel was suspected of killing Israeli Jewish policemen. He was convicted for maiming a distinguished Hebrew University professor, Zeev Sternhell in a bomb attack. At one point, prosecutors said Teitel confessed he was the mastermind behind the Tel Aviv gay community center murders as well. No one has ever been charged for that crime and the possibility he was involved is reinforced by that fact. He also killed Palestinians, of course. What red-blooded Jewish terrorist wouldn’t, like a wannabe gang member, do that to establish his bona fides?
All this brings me to a larger question: what has been the impact of the wholesale importation into Israel of some of American Jewry’s most brutal, hateful, poisoned members? Why has this happened and what has it done to Israel?
In truth, the settler movement would never have transformed itself into the homicidal project it has become without the inspiration of American Jews. Primary among them is Meir Kahane. If you examine Israeli politics before his political ascent in the 1980s and follow developments afterward, you can’t help but understand the radical transformation that ensued. Before he arrived, Israel was dominated by a more or less civil discourse between right and left. There were red lines which weren’t crossed in political debate.
After Kahane, all hell broke loose. The idea of mass expulsion of Israeli Palestinians (called euphemistically “population transfer”) was previously anathema within civilized political discourse. Killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza by the IDF, while they happened, were relatively unusual. Settler mass murders of the sort perpetrated by another American-Jew, Baruch Goldstein, were unheard of. You never heard of a settler who denied the legitimacy of the Israeli state as you do now. Assassination of a sitting prime minister would’ve been unthinkable.
Kahane gave Israelis permission to think the unthinkable. He told them it was OK to unleash their id. To imagine the worst because the worst was supposedly being done to Jews by their enemies both inside and outside Israel. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 originates as an idea in the movement inspired by Kahane. This remarkable video of the incitement to murder orchestrated by the Likud (including Bibi Netanyahu) only a few weeks before Rabin’s death, is what such hate did to Israel.
Today, these American Jews continue to inject their brutish parody of Judaism into Israeli discourse. Irving Moskowitz leads efforts to racially cleanse East Jerusalem of Palestinians with his treasure chest of hundreds of millions dedicated to stealing Palestinian homes and replacing their inhabitants with Torah-true Jews.
Sheldon Adelson, who pumped over $100-million into the Republican presidential race to get a suitably pro-Israel president, single-handedly funds Israel’s Bibi worship society with a $40-million yearly subsidy to Yisrael HaYom. His millions have also destroyed the economic viability of Israel’s long-time daily newspapers. Maariv has gone belly up and been sold to a publisher who runs a newspaper empire even more right-wing than Maariv was. Haaretz appears to be holding on just barely by the skin of its teeth thanks in part to a major injection of capital by a Russian oligarch. Before Adelson, there was a reasonable discourse in the Israeli press. After Adelson, there’s the centrist-liberal Haaretz and virtually everything else moves from right to farther-right.
It’s important also to note the hundreds of millions raised by radical American Jews like the Hebron Fund and Central Fund for Israel, which prop up the settler movement.
Amidst this drum-beat of bad news, I don’t mean to say that the contribution of American Jews to Israel has been universally toxic. Let’s not forget Judah Magnes, founder, along with Martin Buber, of Brit Shalom. Let’s not also forget the major contributions by others like Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and Jessica Montel of B’Tselem. Then there’s the extraordinary example of David Shulman, co-founder of Ta’ayush, MacArthur fellow, and author of Dark Hope. These American Jews have certainly projected a more traditional prophetic vision that has characterized American Judaism for decades.
But for whatever reason, the benevolent vision projected by them has been overwhelmed by the potent toxin of Jewish settlerism inspired by a relatively small cabal of American Jews. Unfortunately, while Kahane was a minority within the more moderate confines of American Jewry, once in Israel he inspired a movement that became dominant. One reason for this is that American Jews live in the context of a well-established secular democracy. No one Jew, no matter how charismatic (as Kahane was), could drive the community into the arms of extremism and terror. Israel, however, has had a much more tenuous, ambivalent relationship with democracy. The State also embraced from its founding, right-wing Orthodoxy in ways American Jewry never has. This, in turn, created fertile ground for Kahane’s messianic vision of Jewish triumphalism.
So Israel, many of us here in America are ashamed of our contribution to the dysfunction you currently suffer. We wish there were more Magneses, Aschermans and Montells and less Kahanes, Gimpels and Teitels. I write this post as my own small way of doing penance for their sins.