Rabbi Yeshayahu Rotter, the founder of Rotter.net, Israel’s major news and gossip portal, wrote a column in HaKol Hayehudi, a website maintained by the extremist Yitzhar yeshiva run by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg (co-author of Torat HaMelech, which advocates murdering Palestinian children since they’ll grow up to murder Jews). In the column published last March, he foreshadows (and incites) some of the most incendiary acts of violence in the entire history of price tag activities: a few days ago settlers directly attacked an IDF West Bank outpost and threw a brick at a senior IDF officer in his vehicle, injuring him. This follows three mosque arson attacks, repeated death and bomb threats against Peace Now leaders, sexual assaults against peace activists and much more. It’s reasonable, in fact, to wonder whether the very yeshiva students who read this article last March didn’t take it to heart. Their current activities could in fact be seen as acts of homage to their saintly teach, Rabbi Rotter.
Unlike settler rabbis harboring similar views, Rabbi Rotter lives in Haifa. But he might as well live in Yitzhar for all the difference in his views from those who wrote Torat HaMelech. I call him a “settler rabbi” because he is a rabbi of the settlers even if he doesn’t live there.
Similarly, the good rabbi can be proud because while he carefully distinguishes his incitement to violence from actual violence, his son Meir, a police officer widely known to Sheikh Jarrah protesters for his especially violent ways, published his own incitement to violence against demonstrators in the Rotter forum. Meir Rotter urged police officers to vandalize cars of protesters, slash tires and perform other acts of violence to teach these disgusting leftists a thing or two about how Israel should be run. You can no doubt be certain that Rotter Jr. doesn’t just write, but he does. Do you think Meir has been reprimanded for his extracurricular taunting at Rotter? Of course not. Abba can’t be quite as explicit. He’s a rabbi after all. But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Rotter’s statement is a lit match on a pool of gasoline. It is the equivalent of a bunch of neo-Nazi Skinhead thugs beating up an Arab, after which a leading Christian cleric endorses the violence.
Rabbi Rotter isn’t stupid. He makes clear (totally disingenuously, I might add) that he is merely stating his “personal opinion” and not inciting anyone to take any action illegal or otherwise. This, he believes, gets him off the hook. Of course, he neglects that he runs one of Israel’s most popular websites and that his views carry weight and authority especially in the far-right settler community.
I was raised always to respect rabbis and though I’ve learned otherwise (regarding some rabbis) over the years, I try to give any rabbi the benefit of the doubt since they still retain at least an aura of moral authority. But not Rabbi Rotter. What he’s counseling is not just immoral and illegal, but he’s counseling violence as both a tactic and strategy for the settler movement. Given his stature, what he’s doing is evil. It is very hard for me to say that anything a rabbi would do is evil. But this is. If his was just Baruch Marzel or David HaIvri I’d just chalk it up to political sloganeering, but once you mix in Judaism, halacha and related issues, you have a rabbi declaring that our religion countenances violence, illegality and hilul haShem. This cannot be. This is a rabbi who must be denounced by other rabbis and anyone who cares about Judaism. Rabbi Rotter is perverting Judaism.
The rhetoric below is little better than Der Shturmer. In fact, it’s the Jewish equivalent. Do we want genocidaires among us Jews? For that is what Rabbi Rotter is. He believes he’s saving Jewish lives and avenging Jewish dead. But that is not what the State of Israel needs right now. It doesn’t need avenging angels. In fact, avenging angels in the current political climate are Angels of Death. And they will kill Jews and Palestinians without distinguishing between them.
Here is his op-ed:
In the calculations of the murderers [Palestinians] these days more than previous ones, there is no sense of deterrence. Every potential murderer among the Palestinians knows that he will receive the critical support from the Arabs and from Jewish leftists who hate settlers more than Arabs hate them. The only thing that restrains murderers from slaughtering Jewish families in the Land of Israel is “price tag.”
In the past I was very much against this. Because in essence this is taking the law into one’s own hands and you cannot have such a situation in a civilized country. Even this statement could place me in trouble with Shai Nitzan [State prosecutor who pursues security cases]. But I am expressing an opinion and not inciting anyone to act on such an opinion. I am not organizing anyone to do anything, only expressing a difficult opinion in a difficult time.
In a civilized society which takes responsibility for its citizens, who know that it will take every possible measure to protect their lives and will respond with all possible strength to deter such deaths, there is no reason to take such measures [as price tag]. In fact, this is something that is absolutely forbidden. But the question is whether the State of Israel today, under the leftist domination of a twisted media, extreme leftist media figures, some of whom justify crimes against the settlers, and obtuse courts which act as if they are in Belgium or Holland–is it not the case that in such circumstances [the rules prohibiting] taking the law into one’s hands in the face of the enemy slaughtering children upon their parents [the reference is likely to the Fogel family murdered in Itamar] is no longer relevant.
As I said, for these murderers there is no deterrence, it’s only a question of opportunity. They don’t murder every day not because anyone frightens them off, but only because they don’t have opportunity to murder children, women, and the elderly.
When there is no deterrence, when there is no price tag then there is no cost for the murderers [“everything is free”]. What is free? Even the blessings and satisfaction offered by various Israelis who arent’t afraid to express their views [favoring killing settlers] and the media which airs these views.
In such circumstances we must examine deterrent forces like price tag and just as in a there are no limits [constraints], “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” “In a place where there is no man, be a man.” To my sorrow, in everything concerning settlers and deterrence “there is no man.”
If there is only one consideration why not let it be price tag, since the only price to be paid is by the person who commits such an act. He will find himself in prison for many years and he and his family will suffer greatly for this. Therefore, it’s appropriate to consider the cost when considering price tag [attacks]. But this should be his only consideration and nothing beyond it [i.e. he shouldn’t take into account any moral considerations either regarding the State of Israel or the intended victims]. Because the Palestinians are “dead men” [a chilling locution meaning “as good as dead” or lit., “children of death”]. There is no better definition for them. Every one of them intends to kill us, even an infant a single month old.
There is much to consider in this racist, rancid rant. First, I’d say Rabbi Rotter is not just an extremist, but he’s delusional. In fact, Biderman’s cartoon above is a perfect representation of the minds of Jewish paranoiacs like him. He has absolutely no sense of reality. He’s little different from schizophrenics and individuals with bipolar disorder who engage in acts of violence because they misperceive reality. But in this case, it isn’t just himself that he endangers or those around him. He in fact incites others who respect and admire him and infects them with his own demented perception of the world.
Second, price tag as a policy will not deter a Palestinian militant as Rotter claims. In fact, as was shown in the case of the Palmer stoning incident, those Palestinians threw rocks because settlers had previously torched their village mosque in a price tag attack. Such acts incite Palestinian violence, not deter it. Price tag has little to do with the Palestinians in fact. It is actually an act of political protest meant to both damage the State’s power and protest policies which rein in settler power. The only way price tag might become a deterrent to Palestinian violence is if it turned into mass pogroms against Palestinians. And even then, it would still do just the opposite. For every Palestinian into whom was thrown the fear of God, there would be two who would turn in the opposite direction and attempt to take it to Israelis and make them pay. That’s the thing about price tag. Everyone pays, not just the Palestinians.
The ultimate goal of price tag and Rabbi Rotter isn’t just vengeance against Palestinian murderers, it is the toppling of the civil state and its replacement with a Torah-true kingdom in which religion and nationalism have become united. Sort of an Islamic Republic of Iran, if you will. There will be no democracy there. No Arabs too. No secular Jews. And God forbid, no leftist media. Only Torah-true Jews. Judeans, if you will.
You can just imagine what will be necessary to attain this vision. How much blood will be shed. Both Palestinian and Israeli, Jewish and Muslim. Make no mistake, this is the cry of the genocidaire. It was like Milosevic’s cries for Serbians to kill Croat Muslims in Srebrenica before they could kill Serbians. Others may think of other parallel historical situations. If your enemy has nothing but murder in his heart, then you’re justified in killing him first. That’s why Rotter must lie and claim that it is the Palestinians who will be guilty of the genocide he wishes for them.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.