Opinion |

The False Innocence of Jewish Terrorism

Jewish terror has been around since Israel's founding, but an increasingly radical ideology has changed the nature of the threat it poses

Mayan Sarnat
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FILE PHOTO: Head of a Jewish extremist group Meir Ettinger appears in court in Nazareth Illit , Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Head of a Jewish extremist group Meir Ettinger appears in court in Nazareth Illit , Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015.Credit: AP
Mayan Sarnat

Earlier this month, the Shin Bet security service revealed that Jewish teens had been arrested on suspicion of committing terrorist acts, including the murder of a Palestinian woman by stone-throwing. It was also reported that before the arrest, extremist activists rode in cars to the youths’ homes, violating the religious prohibition against driving on Shabbat, to advise the youths on how to conduct themselves under interrogation.

One of these activists was Meir Ettinger, the grandson of Meir Kahane and a veteran of arrests and interrogations. Until recently, Ettinger was also the prime focus of the Shin Bet’s Jewish division. At the same time, about a hundred rabbis published an open letter to the prime minister, justice minister and interior minister protesting the teens’ arrest and the conditions of their detention.

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Some of the signatories to this unusual letter were rabbis not associated with the extremist circles surrounding the activists. The letter also did not include any moral statement regarding the deed at the center of the investigation. “The Shin Bet’s unacceptable interrogation methods in the Duma case were revealed, and just this week the court disqualified confessions taken by the Shin Bet from someone suspected of a nationalist offense,” the letter said.

A Palestinian vehicle sprayed with slogans by settler extremists in East Jerusalem, February 12, 2018.Credit: דוברות המשטרה

Let’s take a close look at the type of activity these youths were involved in. This is a network with many connections, with support and instructions for all kinds of criminal activity, operating under a clear-cut extremist ideology.

In the document titled “The Revolt” seized by the Shin Bet, which contains a strategic plan for destroying the State of Israel and establishing the Kingdom of Israel in its place, Ettinger wrote that the goal should be to stir up turmoil among the Palestinians to bring down the Israeli government and sow political chaos.

Attacks on Arabs, and the response that follows, will lead to a series of violent incidents and a dynamic of escalation – one that the country will struggle to control. Ettinger argues that harming Arabs is a “powder keg” of the utmost importance because of its potential to set things alight.

Incidents of the kind for which the youths were arrested are not motivated by vengeance or fleeting passion; they are part of a broad strategy to fulfill the vision of a Kingdom of Israel ruled by Jewish law, the expulsion of anyone who isn’t Jewish and the building of the Third Temple.

The connections between the people in Ettinger’s circle confirm this, and it was the same with the Duma attack. The findings from the Duma investigation made clear that the attack was the result of planning and preparation made under the influence of a detailed ideology of a certain circle. From what has been reported so far in the current case, the picture appears to be very similar.

FILE PHOTO: Radical Jewish youths in the West Bank, in 2010.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

>> Outcry over Jewish terror suspect's rights may not help Palestinian detainees | Analysis

The same system of support and encouragement can be seen in the advice and guidance given the suspects on how to conduct themselves in a Shin Bet interrogation. The booklet “Know Your Rights,” written by extremist activist Noam Federman, talks about what to do when questioned by the Shin Bet or police. It was published shortly before Federman’s 2002 arrest on suspicion of involvement with the Bat Ayin underground.

This booklet covers the suspect’s rights – what to answer and what not to answer and how to avoid an indictment. There are also descriptions of the Shin Bet's ploys to extract a confession, and even recommendations on what kind of supplies to bring to prison.

The preparations should be made with experienced veterans of interrogations, the document advises. The activists are also provided with other literature such as "Malkhut Zadon," which includes a description of how to torch mosques, churches and monasteries, and how to avoid detection by the Shin Bet.

The documents advise small cells rather than a wide network, to reduce the chances of exposure. Within the cell, the activists are required to maintain compartmentalization. For example, if two members carry out a certain action, there is no need for them to share this with the rest of the cell. “You just mustn’t tell about it. And of course, the other members mustn’t question this and try to find out more,” it says.

It should be emphasized that these activists do not see themselves as fixing and improving the state. While other far-rightists take the law into their own hands to change the state from the inside, believing that “the government is against them but the people are with them,” the Jewish terror activists knowingly operate with the intention of destroying the state.

In “The Revolt,” Ettinger writes that “the fundamental ideas of Zionism are built for the purpose of a state like all the nations and not for a Kingdom of Israel …. It’s a lot cheaper and quicker to tear it down and rebuild than to repair it.”

Ettinger’s view that Zionism is inherently rotten and that the state has no right to exist guides his flock to view the State of Israel as the enemy of the Jews and to take action against it. It’s no coincidence that these same youths are accused of burning an Israeli flag and that another Israeli flag with a swastika and the words “Death to the Zionists” painted on it was found in their room.

Last Thursday, a top security official was quoted as saying that responsibility for the loss of deterrence versus the so-called hilltop youth lies with the courts. Unlike in 2016, now the courts are releasing dangerous hilltop youths from detention and thereby impairing deterrence, leading to an increase in the rate of nationalist crime.

The spike in the number of hate crimes in 2018 included more than 40 violent incidents against the security forces. But in 2016, nationalist crime fell 80 percent. Thus it's clear that effective deterrence can prevent the next tragedy.

The Jewish terror phenomenon isn't new, it has been around since the state was founded. But the increasingly extremist ideology among the activists has made their operations more violent. It has thus changed the nature of the threat posed by this group.

Besides deterrence by the security forces and courts, other measures are needed to stop the spread of extremist ideology and to keep the number of its adherents from growing. This requires an educational program for the hilltop youth, while extremist rabbis must be indicted without any plea bargains. The outcry raised by people who fear for the well-being of “the children,” as if these young people simply got caught up in a situation they didn’t understand, doesn't help matters.

Maayan Sarnat is a security researcher and works for the Economic Cooperation Foundation and Commanders for Israel’s Security.

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