Pointing Finger at Americans for Settler Violence Shirks Israeli Responsibility

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File photo of Jewish settlers throwing rocks towards Palestinians during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, April 30, 2013.
File photo of Jewish settlers throwing rocks towards Palestinians during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, April 30, 2013.Credit: AP

In an article for the New York Times, Sara Yael Hirschorn points a finger at the role of Jewish-Americans in Israeli settler violence, following the arrest of four settlers allegedly involved in burning down a house in the village of Duma in which an 18-month old baby and both his parents lost their lives. Three of the arrested settlers, Hirschorn points out, have ties to the United States, the fourth with Australia. She then goes on to show how American Jews have long been involved in violence and racist abuse toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel in recent decades, including Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein and Yoel Lerner.

According to Hirschorn, an estimated 12 to 15 percent of settlers, about 60,000, are of U.S. descent, and many of those are among the more ideological, radical settlers.

The danger when pointing a finger in a direction other than the scene of the crime is of avoidance – of refusal to take responsibility. Israel, like the U.S., is made up of immigrants and immigrants become part of the society in which they integrate, not an outpost of their motherland. They accept the moral code and assume the laws of the country in which they are absorbed. When they diverge from those, they and their society must take the blame and be judged accordingly. Blame should not be placed on a society thousands of miles away.

This may not have been Hirschorn’s intention when presenting the facts, but this is how the settlers and other Israelis may manipulate it. It will only help to confirm the theory of “errant weeds” and the evasion of responsibility: Not only are they errant weeds, they even grew in, and belong to, a different flowerbed.

Some settlers are seasoned experts in shrugging their shoulders and evading responsibility, yet seem to have no problem when Israel bombs large parts of the Gaza Strip or punishes whole cities in the West Bank in response to actions of Palestinian “weeds” – but when it comes to them, God forbid. There is no communal or national responsibility for settlers, only for Palestinians.

I have been following with much fascination the role of the U.S. in the settlement project, and have explored it at length in my novel “The Hilltop” – not only on the active level of Americans immigrating and becoming settlers (of course there is a Brooklynite among my characters, I wouldn’t dare not to include one), but also on the philanthropic level (rich American Jews donating to settler and right-wing causes in Israel and the West Bank), the political level (the influence and feedback on all political levels up to the very top of the pyramid in both countries) and the media level (the mutual fascination and ongoing interest exemplified in column inches and air time dedicated to Israel in mainstream U.S. media, and vice versa).

I am particularly intrigued with how Israelis have perfected the two-faced (or rather two-handed) approach when it comes to America, in which the one hand is happily and greedily open to accept billions of dollars of U.S. support, while the other punches and smacks or at least waves a finger as if to warn the naughty one whenever the Americans dare criticize or question what is done with their money, denouncing “foreign involvement in internal matters.”

Therefore it is not difficult to guess where the settlers could maneuver this example of their violence being an American phenomenon. Undoubtedly, the communities and yeshivas in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. where these weeds are being nurtured deserve condemnation and monitoring. But we shouldn’t forget that these weeds, once they have moved over and made aliyah, become ours. They are Israeli weeds. Settler weeds.

And as much as the statistics presented by Hirschorn are riveting, they must not be used by settlers and Israelis in general as further ammunition for the shoulder shrugging, or as another fig leaf – another excuse to evade responsibility.

These despicable criminals are only a fraction of Jewish-American immigrants to Israel, most of whom are law-abiding citizens, in the same way as murderous militants are a fraction of the general Israeli, and settler, population. They should by no means be ignored, and should be found and arrested with appropriate force. But instead of asking American Jews to condemn the errant weeds, we should be encouraging them to send over many more sane, sensible, law-abiding youngsters, who should be welcomed to join the forces fighting for peace. They have the numbers and power to do so.

The writer is an award-winning Israeli author and novelist whose books have been translated into several languages.

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