The Shin Bet today arrested the settler version of the Wild West’s Jesse James, Meir Ettinger, age 23. He topped the list of Israel’s Most Wanted, if today’s Israeli media is to be believed. Security services believe he is the mastermind behind the Duma arson attack which killed a small Palestinian baby and that he also organized the burning of the Church of Loaves and Fishes.
Ettinger is the grandson of Meir Kahane. One of Kahane’s sons, Binyamin, was murdered by a Palestinian militant. But Ettinger is the son of Kahane’s daughter, Tovah. His father, Mordechai, is a prominent right-wing rabbi affiliated with Ateret Cohanim, which is attempting to rebuild the Holy Temple and restore the priestly animal sacrifices (among other ritual arcanities, they’re searching for the semi-mythical red heifer, the parah adumah). Apparently, the apple (in this case one full of maggots) doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The Israeli intelligence services have spun a media tale of a new Jewish terror underground seeking to undermine the very foundations of the state. Ettinger and his fellow conspirators are, supposedly, subversives who wish to replace the Israeli state with a Davidic monarchic theocracy. For this reason, they’re being painted as the equivalent of the Black Panthers in the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover.
While there is no doubt that Jewish terrorists like these are villains who should be hunted down, arrested and imprisoned for their heinous crimes; the idea that these individuals are seeking to undermine the state is ludicrous. Why should they have to undermine the state when they essentially own it, as far as their own interests go?
The problem with the current narrative painting Ettinger as Israel’s Huey Newton is that once the Shin Bet brings down this so-called “terror cell” and puts its members behind bars, the public will expect the danger to be over, so that it may return to its usual soporific torpor regarding the Palestinian issue. But putting away a Jewish terrorist or two will not solve a thing. There will be scores more to take their place. Because they know that the government doesn’t want to stop them. If it did it surely and easily could. But the government wants to manage such terrorism, not eliminate it. When it gets out of hand, the government will go after a few bad apples. But it will not root out the problem once and for all. That’s because senior ministers are deeply complicit in the activities of these terrorists.
Today, the Israeli democracy NGO, Molad, released a report noting that Ettinger manged a terror cell which monitored the movements of IDF units dismantling illegal settlements. The terrorists trashed the IDF encampment where these troops were based and destroyed military equipment. Ettinger and his “colleagues” had terrific inside intelligence informing them of the plans of the soldiers. They were aided by none other than then-deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin. When this news was reported in the media no one in the government so much as blinked an eye. Though Elkin didn’t trumpet his pride in his deeds, another settler minister (agriculture), Uri Ariel, did.
In any other democratic society, such acts would be deemed damaging to national security. In what country are politicians permitted to undermine the operations of the army? In such countries such leaders would be arrested and imprisoned for insurrection or subversion. In this country, people like Elkin are rewarded with more power. In the current government, he is minister of absorption and Jerusalem affairs. What better individual to tell Jews of the world why they should make aliyah?
Amir Oren, in today’s Haaretz, laughs at the Shin Bet portrayal of Ettinger and his gang as a danger to the nation. He portrays them as veritable babes in diapers compared to some of the enemies the security services have tackled in the past. He notes that the same army which mounted the heroic operation in Entebbe couldn’t manage to control a few young Jewish hoodlums. It goes beyond incompetence (though that may be a factor) to an underlying refusal to deal with the problem in a fundamental or decisive way. To paraphrase the words of the old Walt Kelly cartoon: we [Israelis] have met the settlers and they are us.
Oren notes that the current Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, was chosen for a number of reasons: he was an Orthodox Jew with right-wing political sympathies. Sara Netanyahu and Rabbi Haim Druckman, the patron saint of Gush Emunim, in particular did not like the leading candidate, Yitzhak Ilan. So he lost the race and a patsy won the job who wouldn’t know a Jewish terrorist if he met one. Meanwhile, the leading candidate for the next Shin Bet chief, Roni Alsheikh (a story only reported here) is a former settler who has been touted by Haaretz as someone with sympathy for “messianists.” That certainly bodes well for the future, doesn’t it?
There is a fundamental battle in Israel over the nature of the state. In the first decades, those who wished it to be a democracy at least had a fighting chance. But nowadays, they have lost that battle. Israel’s days as a democracy are long gone. Israel is now a Jewish state in the worst senses of that phrase. A state privileging a version of religion I call “settler Judaism.” It’s a political theocracy in ways that are reminiscent of the Ayatollah regime in Iran.
At today’s Israeli cabinet meeting, Prime Minister released a statement through the foreign ministry. For those who might harbor the hope that something fundamental has perhaps changed in Israel as it meets these crises of two heinous terror attacks–abandon such hope all ye who enter here. Netanyahu’s statement is an exemplary representation of the very racism (and stupidity) that brought such terrorism to prominence in Israeli society:
“We recently witnessed two abhorrent crimes. Our policy toward these crimes is zero tolerance. I have instructed security and law-enforcement officials to use all legal means at their disposal to apprehend the murderers and deal with the stabber and the arsonists to the fullest extent of the law. We are determined to vigorously fight manifestations of hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side. The fight against these phenomena unites us all. This is not a struggle by this or that faction. This is a matter of basic humanity and is at the foundation of our enlightened Jewish values.
I remember as a child, when I would visit on Shabbat the home of my father’s great teacher, Professor Joseph Klausner, among the Jewish People’s greatest historians in the modern era, over his door were etched two words: ‘Judaism’ and ‘humanity’. They are combined and are mutually supportive. This is what distinguishes us from our neighbors. We deplore and condemn these murderers. We will pursue them to the end. They name public squares after the murderers of children. This distinction cannot be blurred or covered up. It is important to say this even as we utter our condemnations and unite against the criminals among our people.”
What utter nonsense! What distinguishes Israel from its neighbors? Nothing. One side commits terror on a small-scale and the other on an industrial scale. Israel, in its capacity for terror is a double threat: it has an army which slaughters Palestinians; but it also has terrorists who operate on a smaller, more ‘intimate’ scale.
Further (and Amir Oren pointed this out), Netanyahu has the effrontery to claim the Palestinians honor their terrorists with streets and squares being named after them, while Israel pursues its terrorists to the end. Apparently, the prime minister forgets the scores of Jewish terrorists whose bravery and courage are honored with streets and squares named for them. These are the terrorists who bombed hotels and assassinated Arabs or British officers. The ones who murdered captured Arab prisoners. He forgets the future IDF generals honored in popular song for their heroic deeds in castrating Palestinians accused (without trial) of raping Jewish women. The future first president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, ordered the first political assassination (of Jacob de Haan) in what was then Palestine. No, Israel doesn’t honor its terrorists by naming streets for them, it makes them generals, presidents and prime minister.
In perhaps the final act of effrontery and sheer chutzpah in this sordid tale, the leaders of the far right (Im Tirtzu’s Ronen Shoval, for one) are counter-attacking by claiming that the current hate coming their way from Israelis is incitement to murder them. We’re supposed to feel sorry because they get death threats when one of their own murdered an Israeli teenager and a Palestinian baby. What did they expect? Flowers?