Taliban Jews: Some Extremists are More Equal Than Others

Published on ZNet, www.zmag.org, 5/11/02

As tensions flare in the Middle East — the result of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory, as well as a spate of suicide/homicide bombings by those resisting the occupation — much has been said of “extremists” and the actions of fanatics. In almost all cases, said terms have been applied only to the bombers, or members of Hamas, Hizbollah, or other Palestinian and Arab groups deemed terrorist by the U.S. State Department and the government of Israel.

Rarely are these appellations applied to Israeli Jews: even those in the settler movement whose contempt for Arabs animates their every move and who openly speak of ethnic cleansing as the solution to Israel’s “Palestinian problem.” Nor are they applied to various leaders of ultra-religious parties who propose full-scale expulsion if not extermination of Palestinians. Nor are the forty percent of Israeli Jews who recently told pollsters they would support forced transfer of all Palestinians from Israel, considered fanatics: at least not to the mainstream press or political leadership of the United States.

Needless to say, fanatic is never the term of choice to describe Ariel Sharon, despite the fact that he was found largely responsible for the massacre of nearly 2000 Arabs (around 900 of them Palestinians) in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Likewise, his recent pronouncement — a complete flouting of international legal norms — that “no nation” has the right to “bring Israel before a court of law,” no matter how it treats Palestinians, failed to bring down charges of lunacy upon the head of Sharon. Rather, President Bush has called him a “man of peace.” Nor is the label “fanatic” ever slapped on former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, ostensibly a “dove” by Sharon’s standards, despite his racist and dehumanizing reference to the Palestinians as “crocodiles” in 1998.

“Fanatic” or “extremist” are labels immediately applied to anyone thought to oppose the existence of Israel as an explicitly Jewish state. But those who openly oppose the existence of a Palestinian state are not so charged. Unless one goes on a shooting spree, (and is not in Israeli military uniform at the time), as did Baruch Goldstein in 1994, killing thirty Muslims while the latter were in prayer, one can pretty well avoid the charge of fanaticism, or being labeled a terrorist.

And whereas the presence at a pro-Palestinian rally of open Hamas supporters, or those who advocate the horrendous tactic of suicide/homicide bombing, would immediately, and understandably, catch the attention of the media, and raise the ire of Israel’s advocates, the similar presence of those supporting Jewish terrorism at a pro-Israel demonstration elicits no concern whatsoever.

For those who are unclear as to what the previous sentence suggests, I would point them to the front page of the New York Times, on May 6th, and specifically the photograph of the New York “Salute to Israel” Solidarity Parade. In the background of said photo can be seen a sign, hung on the barricades holding back pro-Israel demonstrators, which reads: “Kahane was right,” referring to slain Jewish nationalist and former Knesset member, Meir Kahane. Kahane, of course, was the founder of the Jewish Defense League: officially recognized by U.S. authorities as a domestic terrorist organization for its documented violence against its political adversaries. What’s more, supporters of Kahane, the JDL, and his Israel-based movement, Kach, marched alongside “liberal” American Jews in the New York parade without a peep of condemnation or distancing by these more “open-minded” members of the Zionist movement.

This, despite the fact that Kahane advocated, in his words, “going all the way” to drive Arabs out of Israel, even in cattle cars if necessary, reminiscent of the German treatment of Jews in the Holocaust. Despite the fact that Kahane’s movement calls for a full restoration of Biblical Israel, which includes parts of Egypt, Syria and modern Iraq, thereby committing Israel to full-scale war against its neighbors. This, despite the fact that Kahane’s movement advocates “a state governed by Torah,” in which state, “democracy has to be ruled out,” the supreme law would be enforced by religious authorities, “respecting the Sabbath would be compulsory,” and free speech would be abolished. One can only imagine the kind of news coverage that would follow if a contingent at a pro-Palestinian rally were to carry signs praising Osama bin Laden. Even open support for Yasir Arafat risks the charge of supporting terrorism, given the insistence by Sharon and his associates that Arafat is the mastermind of suicide bombings and must be excluded from any future negotiations regarding Palestine. And yet, never has Arafat said anything as vicious about Jews as Kahane said about Arabs. Imagine, for example, that Arafat had said the following:

“The Jews of Israel are a desecration of God’s name…removing them from the land is therefore more than a political matter. It is a religious matter, a religious obligation to wipe out the desecration of God’s name.”

Or perhaps this:

“No one can understand the soul of those Jewish beasts, those roaches. We shall either cut their throats or throw them out…whoever does not leave will be slaughtered.”

Yet Kahane said exactly these things about Arabs, and they are views to which his supporters still adhere. Nonetheless, the presence of his acolytes in an Israel Solidarity parade elicits no concern by more moderate Jews, the media, or politicians who claim to support peace.

While the West and Israel insist that Arafat condemn Palestinian terrorism, no similar demand is made of Jews, vis-a-vis the Kahane Chai (Kahane Lives!) movement, whose members carried their leader through the streets of Jerusalem on the night of his election to the Knesset in 1984, shouting “Death to the Arabs.” Once ensconced as a lawmaker, Kahane introduced legislation to sentence anyone who rejected his interpretation of Torah to three years in prison, as well as to expel non-Jews, by “vomiting them out and purging the Holy Land of all vestige of impurity.” He even advocated “liquidating” Jews who were insufficiently committed to his version of theocracy. Though some would insist that Kahane never commanded much support from the Jewish community, the fact is that even in the mid-1980’s 14 percent of American Jews, and 30 percent of the Orthodox professed strong sympathy for Kahane and his movement.

With support for “transfer” of the Palestinians rising, the extremist agenda of the Kahane Chai militants should be an ever-increasing concern. And yet, the involvement of such terrorists, whether called that or not, in the pro-Israel movement in the U.S. is considered nowhere near as offensive as similar support for Arab terrorism among supporters of the Palestinians would be.

And despite claims that the Kahane movement is weak and rejected by most Zionists, one of Kahane’s most famous essays, “Dear World,” has been sent around the internet as of late like a computer virus: mostly by so-called moderate Jews. This, despite the fact that its author compares those who criticize mistreatment of Palestinians to the Nazis, and flaunts a form of Jewish supremacism ostensibly rejected by the more sober-minded.

What is most ironic about the Jewish community’s passive acceptance of the Kahane supporters in their midst, is that Kahane himself couldn’t have cared less about their fate. In fact, Kahane advocated greater violence against Arabs precisely so as to alienate Israel from the rest of the world, thereby forcing Jews to “turn back to God” for salvation, at which time the Messiah would come. What’s more, Kahane admitted that he would be willing to pay other nations to savagely oppress the Jews in their countries, because such oppression would prompt the surviving Jews to flee for Israel.

Even though Kahane once compared himself to the Ayatollah Khomeini, and noted that Khomeini was “a lot closer to Judaism than were Jean-Jacques Rousseau or John Locke or Thomas Jefferson,” because of his belief in the need to “obey God’s law,” the involvement of his supporters fails to inspire leaders in the American Jewish community to attempt to separate themselves from his views. In these days of Israeli and Jewish solidarity, it appears as though even such characters as these are welcome.

But unless Jews of goodwill condemn the views and tactics of Kahane and his supporters, it will be increasingly difficult to criticize the Palestinians for including in their ranks, bombers and fanatics as well. And the presence of such overt racists in the pro-Israel camp also sends the message to the Palestinians that indeed transfer (or worse) is the fate awaiting them, and only the Kahane Chai forces are honest enough to say so in public. As such, it will become increasingly unlikely that terrorism from the Palestinian side will be reigned in, seeing as how the involvement of the Kahane forces in the Zionist movement sends a clear signal that peace is not the goal of Israeli or American Jews after all.

Of course, it’s not enough to purge the Kahane supporters from pro-Israel events and to renounce their views. Ultimately the views and actions of the state of Israel itself have come to increasingly sound like those espoused by the slain Rabbi during his lifetime. Indeed, Sharon has long whispered about transferring Arabs from Israel, and Zionism’s founders advocated such forced removal quite openly in the years prior to the establishment of the Jewish State.

Ultimately, those who care for the welfare of Jews, in Palestine/Israel or anywhere in the world, will have to re-evaluate the impact of Israel’s policies and Zionism itself, not only on the Palestinian people, but also on Jews. Has the state of Israel really contributed to the safety of world Jewry, or exposed Jews to new and unnecessary dangers? Is the strategy of fleeing for Israel preferable to a policy of staying and combating anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head, in each and every nation? Is the dispossession of a people from their land ever likely to lead to anything other than perpetual conflict and war?

To even ask these questions is enough to provoke the ire of many who marched in that Israel Solidarity parade, so firmly entrenched in their psyches is Zionist philosophy. Indeed, these questions would likely prove more upsetting to most Jews than the presence of Kach and JDL supporters at their pro-Israel rallies, or in their synagogues. And that’s a shame. For it indicates the degree to which we as Jews have become so dependent on the victimization narrative — the one that says the gentiles are all out to get us — that we will countenance just about anything, or anyone, in the name of land. And it demonstrates that when it comes to terrorists and extremists, while all of these are equal, some are more equal than others.

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