22 thoughts on “Why Did Jewish Terrorists Target Zeev Sternhell? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. I still find Sternhell’s quotes about using tanks against settlers objectionable, however “prescient”. Violence should not be encouraged and settlers are not some uniformly bad force, in fact, there are some that are very reasonable people and a large number of non-ideological but rather opportunistic settlers. Not to mention that Israel as a whole is responsible for encouraging the settlement construction.
    That said, sadly, the possibility of a civil war – low or high intensity – cannot be dismissed and many settlers and other parts of right-wing Israeli crowd themselves are by far the more guilty side in abetting violent resistance to settlement evacuation.

  2. Peter D,
    I’ll believe that settlers are not all uniformly bad when I hear about settlers organizing to protect Palestinian children from the attacks of other settlers.

    Til then, I’ll continue to condemn them all.

  3. ellen, your logic is wrong. The fact that they don’t organize such protests does not translate into them being “uniformly bad force”. As a quick example, here is a settler rabbi being attacked by another settler for his contacts with the Palestinians, Hamas included.
    The attacks on the Palestinian children by settlers are despicable but isolated events. Or can’t you imagine settlers exercising their authority on their children to avoid violence just as there are Palestinians who try to stop their children from joining Hamas (even though they will not protest suicide bombings publicly)? What do you think of settlers such as this? What do you think of people that moved there encouraged by lower cost and higher quality of living and now are stuck there – this is an economical problem, too: what do you do if you want to move from the territories – do you rent your house to somebody else? Where do you get the money to live in another place? Some moved there when relations with surrounding Palestinian villages were very different – not idyllic, of course, but nothing like what we see today, in fact, settlements were supplying work and livelihood to a lot of Palestinians.
    Let me be clear, I am not for letting the settlers community of the hook for the terrible injustice their presence causes to the Palestinians. What I found objectionable in Sternhell’s quotes was his propensity for demonization of all of them. We don’t like to see the Palestinians or Arabs demonized for the deeds of a small number of terrorists; by the same token, we should avoid demonization of any group of people, even our political nemesises.

  4. @Peter D: There is some small measure of justice in yr comments Peter. But you are largely wrong I’m sorry to say. In Hebron the IDF has erected cages to protect Palestinians from settlers (including their children I’m sorry to say) spitting at them & throwing refuse including excrement at them. THis is standard operating procedure for the Hebron settlers.

    There are some settlers who are decent & humane but they largely living in places like Kiryat Arba & Gush Etzion. THese are not the extremist settlers who now dominate political discourse within the settler movement.

    I surely hope you’re not trying to say settlements provide benefits to Palestinians. Do you think Palestinians would not give up such jobs in a heartbeat if they could get the settlers to withdraw fr. them?

    I am sorry but I have little sympathy for those who moved to settlements no matter what the inducement. Besides, the government will make them whole financially when it sees fit to withdraw fr. settlements just as it did the Gaza settlements. The U.S. will also help w. this financially no doubt in order to get this albatross off Israel’s back.

    My God man, Zeev Sternhell was nearly assassinated & you take him to task for demonizing extremist settlers? The settlers are a cancer on the body politic. Settlements MUST be uprooted if Israel is to survive. It’s that simple.

    Your link about the West Bank rabbi is broken so I don’t know who you’re referring to, but if you’re referring to Menachem Froman, surely you can’t believe that he is representative in any way shape or form of the settler movement. He is a blessed dissident and thank God he existed. But he is literally the sole rabbi who believes as he does. The views of other rabbis living in the Territories may vary from right of center to extreme right of center. But none come close to Froman’s.

  5. Richard, real quick.
    I am against demonization, period. Yes, Sternhell was nearly assassinated, but imagine this situation: after a suicide bombing when you try to reason with people not to demonize all Palestinians, you hear the reply: “scores of people are dead and wounded here and you take us to task for demonizing the Palestinians?” This would be a reply that follows exactly your logic.
    Now, you are right about the state of Israel making whole those settlers it uproots. But it is not on the agenda right now. What do you do if you want to leave a settlement right now? Where do you go, where do you get money to rent/buy another place? Some people were lured to go there for economic, not ideological reasons. Many have no direct contact nor friction with the Palestinians. And the settlements did provide livelihood to the Palestinians in the past – although they no longer do in most cases.
    I think if you are really interested in solving the problem of the settlements you have to be ready to meet with moderate elements in the settlers movement and strengthen them. You, however, sound to me just like the absolute Israel-bashers that deny that moderate elements exist or should be talked to/strengthened in Israel at all (read Mondoweiss commenters), just for you the villains are the settlers as opposed to the whole Israeli society.
    I am sorry about the broken link, but you guessed right – it was rabbi Froman. Here is the link again. But there are other moderate religious Zionist rabbis, even living in the territories – the names or r. Amital and r. Bin Nun come to mind, but I am not a good source on that. See this link as a quick example. Just as the Jewish community in the US should not be conflated with the loudest and most energetic parts of it (AIPAC, ADL and such) we should not conflate all settlers with Naareei ha-Gvaot, Itzhar, Tapuakh and other vociferous and ugly manifestations.

  6. @Peter D: You MUST read Isabel Kershner’s piece on the Hilltop Youth. This is the new face of the settler movement. The YESHA council is passe. Its leaders are old hat. I’m afraid that you’re putting stock in a certain moderate settler who, if he ever existed, has almost no bearing on current developments in the Territories.

    I am NOT an Israel basher. I am an Occupation basher. You, of all people, should understand the difference. And what is the face, heart & soul of the Occupation if not the settlers?

    Have you been to Hebron lately? Have you read about what’s happening there? Can you deny that this is a very significant representation of the settler movement? That MANY settlers, prob. a majority if not a vast majority, support what these people are doing?

    My denunciation of the settlements stems from the absolute desperation of the current political environment. While I value any humanism within the settler community, I’m not prepared to say this means we should go easy on the movement as a whole.

  7. Richard, you are ignoring my point about demonization of an entire society. Replace settlers with any of the following: American Jews; Arabs; Iranians; Israeli society – and your reasoning as to why their moderates are not the ones that are heart and soul but “old hats”, how the agenda is hijacked by the extremists etc translates precisely. For example, let’s take American Jews. Try to talk to the crowd at Mondoweiss and explain how there is J Street, how AIPAC doesn’t speak for all of US Jews, etc and you’d get responses very similar to what you tell me about the settlers. And there will be merit to both positions, by the way, yours and theirs: a pyramid seen from above looks like a square, seem from the side – a triangle. Nothing is black and white.
    Just as you claim we should strengthen moderate elements in Palestine, talk to Iranians etc, I claim that the same applies to the settlers. I’ve known settlers, I served with them in the army. Some we extreme, most were not. Most knew that when a time comes and they are told to evacuate their houses they’ll pick up their stuff and leave. Do you really want to play at the hands of those that are willing to abet violence and alienate the moderate ones? Nobody likes talk of tanks coming at them. How’s my point of talking to settlers any less reasonable than talking to Iranians or Hamas?
    Richard, as much as we’d like that, we cannot wish the settlers away. There are half a million of them and many more of their sympathizers inside the Green Line. Do we want a civil war or a dialog and accommodation? Talking about tanks is not helpful.
    I am not saying “go easy at them”, I am saying we need to talk, we need to strengthen those that are appalled at the extremists within their ranks but lack organization and esprit de corps to act. We need to push for J Street within the settlers.

  8. I forgot to add another point. You make it sound as if injustices of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians start and end with the settlements. This is a-historical and wrong. Settlers are quite right to point out the inherent hypocrisy in the position of many from the Israeli left that talk about lands stolen form the Palestinians by the settlers and ignore that many of them leave on land no less stolen. As orgo rightfully notes here, Gilo is no less a settlement than Ofra. Thus Sternhell’s comments that

    If the Palestinians had a little sense, they would have concentrated their struggle against the settlements and would not hurt women and children, fire rockets on Gilo, Nachal Oz and Sderot […]

    are hypocritical and self-serving. Sderot, by the way, is built on the site of Arab village Najd. The injustices started not in 1967, but in 1948… The Magnes Zionist understands it and I think his position is much more intellectually and morally honest and coherent than Sternhell’s.
    Finally, put yourself in the position of a settlers. First, encouraged by the state to go and settle the land, called the new “halutzim” and then all of a sudden hear the talk of tanks and abetting the Palestinians to turn their struggle only at you, as Sternhell would have it? I’d feel betrayed and alienated. No, Israeli society as a whole is responsible for the settlement enterprise and as such it has the responsibility towards the settlers as well.

  9. @Peter D:

    you are ignoring my point about demonization of an entire society.

    The extremist settlers are not “an entire society.” At best, they are a subset of a subset. There are several hundred thousand settlers. Of these, perhaps half or less could be considered ideological. Of these perhaps a tenth could be considered extremist. That’s a pretty small minority. But even if one claims that I’m demonizing all settlers, once again, they are not Israeli society. They are settler society. If the settlers and settlements disappeared tomorrow, it would be a blip in terms of its long term impact on overall Israeli society.

    Do we want a civil war

    This is entirely unpersuasive. Ariel Sharon brooked settler wrath when he withdrew fr. Gaza settlements. They threatened civil war. What happened? Violence but no civil war. What will happen when the Israeli government finally gets its shit together & withdraws fr. most W. Bank settlements? More threats of civil war. More cries of “Kapo” & sights of Yellow Stars. The typical moral blackmail the settlers are known for. But the center will hold if Israel but has the will to do what has to be done. The longer Israel waits the more opportunity it gives to the weaselly gremlins who plot bomb throwing against elderly professors & murder of unarmed Palestinian shepherds. All to prove a “moral” pt. that Jews will never give up their maximalist dreams of Jewish dominance over all of Biblical Israel.

    I am all for moderates within the settlers. But aside from a example here or there I don’t see enough to sustain a movement, let alone to create substantial change. Menachem Froman is wonderful & I have highlighted his wonderful work here several times. But he is a lone brave man in a sea of Jewish intransigence.

  10. @Peter D:

    Israeli society as a whole is responsible for the settlement enterprise and as such it has the responsibility towards the settlers as well.

    No, I don’t agree. Israeli society’s only responsibility is to do what’s best for Israeli society overall. The only responsibility it has to the settlers is to get them out of there & make them as whole as possible for whatever loss they incur. There is bound to be some suffering & discomfort during withdrawal. I’m all for sympathy for what ails the settlers as long as they accept the mandate of a democratic society that they leave. Those settlers who don’t should be treated w. no consideration whatsoever.

    In the last 40 yrs there has been far too much romanticizing, mollycoddling & nodding & winking at settler shenanigans. Your recipe seems like more of the same. Settlers always mistake sympathy and understanding for openings to take more for themselves & their cause. IMO, there must be a final accounting & it must come sooner rather than later.

  11. Richard, you are contradicting yourself and confirming what I said at the same time. You say

    The extremist settlers are not “an entire society.” At best, they are a subset of a subset.

    which was exactly my point, as anybody who cares to read my comments will see. I will not dwell on it or repeat what I said and why I objected to Sternhell’s pretty inciting words.
    Regarding civil war. Yes, it did not come to it, thank god, during the evacuation of Gush Katif, but I cannot see it as a guarantee it won’t happen when WB is evacuated. First, we are talking about much larger numbers – hundreds of thousands of settlers, as opposed to paltry 6,000 from Gush Katif. Second, Gush Katif settlers were in general much less extreme than some of the WB settlers. I don’t think they had the Kahane types at all. They also used to have better relations with the Gaza Strip Palestinians before the Second Intifada and were more willing to accept the authority of the state. Lastly, the Israeli public by and large supported the “disengagement”. Since then, many came to see it as a mistake that caused the accent of Hamas and the Kassams attacks and so it will be harder to gain a similar measure of support for future withdrawals. This, in turn, will increase the danger of a civil war. I am not saying that civil war is unavoidable but I repeat the point that I made and you glossed over: to reduce its chances, we need to talk to the moderates among the settlers and isolate the extremists.
    Now about “the mandate of a democratic society”. I have been struggling with that a little bit and would like to hear your input. My problem is this: what if the mandate of the democratic society goes against the things you believe in? For a settler, it can be the belief in the God-given right and commandment to settle the Land of Israel, which we reject and thus we demand for him/her to submit to the will of the democratic society. For a refusenik, on the other hand, there is a belief that the occupation is a terrible injustice and crime and he/she refuses to go serve in the territories, against the mandate of the same democratic society. Naturally, I (and, I would guess, you too) feel more sympathy towards the refusenik than towards the settler, but is this position intellectually justifiable? Help me here.
    Finally, I know that you have neither obligation nor, quite possibly, time to address every single point that I made; still, don’t you find my point about Sternhell’s position being hypocritical and self-serving not without merit? Of course, it has nothing to do with the attack on Sternhell per se.

  12. @Peter D:

    we need to talk to the moderates among the settlers and isolate the extremists.

    Who are they? Where is the moderate YESHA Council? Where is the rabbinical group expressing solidarity with Menachem Froman? I can’t singlehandedly CREATE a moderate settlers movement. They have to do that themselves. I’m certainly willing to do what I can to encourage such a phenomenon. But I am an outsider, not a settler. Again, this primarily is their responsibility. Frankly, I think there are too many contradictions inherent in the settler enterprise for a moderate & vigorous movement to arise. But as I said, if they can do it I will support it. I await it.

    Concerning the democratic society issue: you do a judgment based on what the majority of society feel is in its best interests. The majority of American society felt that Jim Crow was wrong & hence responded favorably to Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience. The majority of Israeli society currently believes that continuing settlements is NOT in Israel’s best & long term interests. Hence, the settlers will have to bow to the will of the majority. There will never be anywhere near a majority that will believe civil disobedience in defense of the settlements is in Israel’s real interests. To me this isn’t a difficult proposition.

  13. Richard, I take your point about the moderates among the settlers not making themselves heard enough. I myself am in no way an insider so I wouldn’t be a good source on the question “Who are they?”, except for restating that from my personal experience (admittedly, a ten year-old one) most settlers I met were moderates and, unless the recent events turned most of those into extremists, I would expect this to still be the case. My larger point was that demonization of an entire group of people – I am talking not about thousands of extremists, but about hundreds of thousands of settlers – is objectionable, counter-productive for peace efforts and, in the case of Sternhell’s quotes, somewhat hypocritical and self-serving.
    Again, an analogy: we are also not insiders to the Palestinian society and their moderates may also appear far and few between, yet we rightfully oppose the efforts to smear and demonize all Palestinians. I would like to hold the “left” and “peace-camp” (for the lack of better terms) to higher standards than our opponents. We don’t need to behave like Daniel Pipeses with the signs reversed.
    Regarding your answer to my other question, here is why I find it unsatisfactory.
    First, I think that the reference to the Israeli society’s will to rid itself from the settlements is a red herring. The more pertinent question is what the society thinks of serving in the territories. Here I am pretty sure that absolute majority of Israelis would claim that, whatever they think of the settlements, an Israeli soldier has an obligation to serve there and protect the Israeli citizens (while many would say that the same applies to the Palestinians, that is not the point of the current discussion).
    Second, while majority of Israelis may indeed believe that settlements will eventually have to go – there are, I think, polls supporting this – it doesn’t mean that the majority believes they should be dismantled immediately or in any circumstances. While I haven’t seen a poll on that, there is no other way explaining the polls that give the premiership to Netanyahu, were the elections conducted today. Israeli society vacillates a lot on the issue of the settlements and, as I mentioned already, it hardened its attitudes following the disengagement from Gaza and what followed.
    I also find it funny that you suggest that a person should decide questions of conscience based on the polls of public opinion. Does one hire a pollster each time for that? You are suggesting that the will of majority is the right yardstick, but even if that were easily determinable and definitive (and a lot of times that is not the case), we know full well that the will of the majority, even in democratic societies with largely free press etc, is not necessarily moral. What do you say of, for example, people refusing to serve in Vietnam – a war waged by a democratically elected government and, I believe, at first supported by most people?
    To make the point clearer, consider two refuseniks: one refuses an order to evacuate a settlement while another refuses an order to protect a settlement; both orders are issued by the same authority and supported by the will of the majority of democratic society; both refused on the grounds of conscience. Do you support both refuseniks? Do you condemn both? Support one and condemn another? The way it looks to me, the only logical and consistent stance is either to support or condemn both.

  14. Peter D:

    Do you support both refuseniks? Do you condemn both? Support one and condemn another? The way it looks to me, the only logical and consistent stance is either to support or condemn both.

    With that I agree, if they really do refuse on the grounds of conscience, not for political reasons or because their great uncle’s twin cousin in law is among the settlers.
    In Christianity even the erring conscience is considered absolute, to be respected unconditionally and not subject to external reasoning. I don’t know how Judaism sees the matter though.
    Most legal systems acknowledge this to a degree, in that the conviction of a criminal depends on if he could tell right from wrong at the time of the crime.

    There’s another yardstick, which is that soldiers are not obliged to obey unlawful orders; they’re even obligated to resist them. Unfortunately that’s not applicable here: if international law declares the settlements illegal, but domestic law calls for their (the settlements’, not individual settlers’) protection, the individual soldier can’t be expected to resolve that conflict on his own. And apart from that, in practice the Israeli army has a less than sterling record, to put it mildly, when it comes to resisting unlawful orders.

  15. @Peter D:

    we are also not insiders to the Palestinian society and their moderates may also appear far and few between

    That is NOT the case & you should know this. There is a much stronger peace movement within Palestinian society than there is among settler society.

    To take but one example, when any settler group comes remotely close to creating anything like a Geneva Accords-type document regarding the settler movement, pls. let me know.

    The more pertinent question is what the society thinks of serving in the territories.

    Not at all. The most pertinent question is what society thinks of the settlements. Period. DOes Israeli society as a whole believe settlements are intrinsic to the fabric of the State of Israel? Is it willing to fight to the death to defend & maintain them? Would abandoning most of the settlements mean the death knell for Israel itself? For the majority of those Israelis who answer “No” to these questions, they have answered the question of whether it is permissible for the settlers to place themselves above the law. Again, the answer by a majority of Israeli citizens is an emphatic “No.”

    It is your claim that army service in the Territories is a true indicator that is a red herring. Israelis have a patriotic streak nursed by a sense of duty regarding military service. They believe that if their country tells them to serve they should do so regardless of where. Few Israelis are willing to abandon a discipline ingrained since childhood of service & sacrifice to the State.

    If you asked these soldiers whether they thought these settlements were a critical part of the State of Israel, many if not would answer “No.”

    I also find it funny that you suggest that a person should decide questions of conscience based on the polls of public opinion.

    Again, you are twisting my words & wrenching them out of context & frankly this is getting a little old. I did not say that moral questions should be decided by polls. But polls tell you a lot about what a society believes. And polls of Israeli opinion tell us that a majority would not be willing to place the fate of the state behind the fate of the settlements. A majority of Israelis are not willing to sacrifice themselves & their nation for the sake of settlements.

    I hope you are not arguing that if a majority of Israelis believe the settlements should be abandoned that this is an immoral position. Because if you did then yr views would be little diff. than those of the settlers.

    Draft resisters during the Vietnam era were right to disobey the law. In a very short time, the majority of Americans came to embrace their pt. of view more or less. The settlers have had 40 yrs. to persuade Israelis of the rightness of their view and they have failed.

    Someone who refuses to serve in the Territories is refusing to defend settlements & I applaud them. They of course must be willing to face discipline & perhaps jail time for following their convictions. However, if a right wing Israeli soldier refuses to withdraw fr. settlements then they too should be prosecuted for disobeying an order. I’d let society sort out at a later date who was right and who was wrong. But I would be lobbying intensely for decriminalizing the behavior of the soldier who refused to defend a settlement since that clearly is the direction in which the majority of Israeli opinion is moving.

    These are not difficult questions.

  16. You guys are nuts! In the past 100 years Tons of Jews have been murdered by Arabs and NOT the opposite! Go to Peduel and see the WHOLE coastal plain including all the cities and Ben Gurion Airport. You loonies want to give that to our murderers who don’t accept us on ANY land in this region?

    Go to Itamar and Elon Moreh and Itzhar and Rechelim- see people DOING and making Israel safe for the rest of us chickens, myself included, who lives in the Negev surrounded by Bedouins who stone our local busses whenever they feel like. Come see the Mercedes and Audis coming out of the Bedouin towns and the huge villas but you guys only like to take pictures of the aluminum shacks, not the 220 meter villas that most Jews in the Negev certainly can’t afford to own.

    If anyone on the right had wanted to kill Sternhell, they could have. This was obviously a Shabak or whatever plan to make the right wing (who they always call “settlers”!) look bad so they can try to do another big transfer of Jews from their homes. Something they wouldn’t dare do to a whole Arab town. You racists don’t mind transfer as long as it is Jews only.

    Stop your paka paka (talk) and come see what is going on. An Arab BURNS DOWN A HOUSE with ALL its contents in Yitzhar and stabs a boy repeatedly and throws him out the window and then the media concentrates on their “reprisal”. WHo gives a sh//. ? If the army and police won’t do a thing what do you think? Who is getting murdered on the roads? Not the Arabs you are so worried about. Geez Louise, get real. You guys are in another world. Perhaps you should help out the Jews of Akko whose over 100 cars have been smashed and over 40 stores -tonight!. So much for coexistence in a mixed town. Oh yeah, and it is always the poorer Jews who pay the price but you don’t exactly worry about them, do you? What pontificators! May you, Inshallah, return to the real world soon!

  17. @Yehudit: Yehudit is getting all her news from the extremist settler rumor mill–meaning it’s all lies. A Palestinian infiltrated a settlement & set a small fire in a home & while fleeing stabbed a child in the hand, giving him a minor wound. In retaliation, the entire male population of the settlement went on a rampage destroying property & wounding Arab villagers in what the Israeli prime minister called a “pogrom.”

    Regarding Acco, an Israeli Arab drove his car quietly through a Jewish neighborhood while attempting to pick up his daughter at a friend’s home. As a result, he, his young son, & son’s friend had their car stoned, they were pursued & only escaped within an inch of their life when a Jewish watchman allowed them to take refuge in his guard booth. Even the police protecting them fled & told them to flee because they couldn’t protect them from the mad dog Jewish mob.

    Israeli Arabs did respond AFTER this incident happened, letting the Jewish mob know that they would not let them own the streets & take the law into their own hands. The violence was instigated by young Jewish hooligans, while the Arabs responded. I don’t support violence on either side. But let’s be clear about who provoked this. My recounting of the incident is based on a Yediot Achronot story.

    You’ll also notice the extremist settler “take” on Sternhell’s attempted assassination. The Shabak did it. Remind you of anything? How ’bout that cursed anti-Semitic rumor that the Mossad warned Jews of the 9/11 attacks? Both theories are equally loony.

    And in the extremist settler fantasy world, removing Jewish settlers from Gaza becomes the same as forced expulsion of Arabs from lands they’ve lived on for multiple generations.

    It’s people like Yehudit who make our side look good by comparison.

  18. Found this blog post with an undated article by Edward Said about a seminar in Paris attended by

    [o]n the Palestinian side […] Elie Sambar, Nur Masalha and myself; on the Israeli side Benni Morris, Ilan Pappe, Itamar Rabinowitch […] and finally, Zeev Sternhell, an Israeli historian of right-wing European mass movements, professor at the Hebrew University, author of a very important recent book on the myths of Israeli society (the main ones of which — that it is a liberal, socialist, democratic state — he demolished completely in an extraordinarily detailed analysis of its illiberal, quasi-fascist, and profoundly anti-socialist character as evidenced by the Labour Party generally, and the Histadrut in particular).

    Note this interesting quote from Said:

    But he [Sternhell] still insisted during the conference in Paris that although it was morally wrong to expel Palestinians, it was necessary to do so.

    Provided Said does not misrepresent what Sternhell said, I see little difference between Sternhell’s and Morris’ views on the Naqba. What’s your take on that, Richard?

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