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Ariel Sharon Faces Death Threats from Orthodox as Rabbis Tell Troops to Disobey Orders

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November - December 2004

Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres says that he fears Israeli extremists might try to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the target of growing far-right fury over a planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip next year.  

The Washington Times (Oct. 20, 2004) reports that, “Mr. Peres, head of the center-left Labor Party, said the divisive atmosphere recalled the climate when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed in 1995 by an ultra-nationalist Jew opposed to his peace deals with the Palestinians, ‘I am very fearful of the incitement, of the harsh things that are being said,’ Mr. Peres, a key supporter of Mr. Sharon’s pullout plan, told the daily Ma’ariv.”  

In October, some 60 leading rabbis issued an unprecedented call for Israeli soldiers to defy any orders to evacuate Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The rabbis, many of them heads of religious academies, or yeshivas, declared that soldiers have a higher duty to preserve Jewish control of the Holy Land than to obey “immoral” orders from the army. This declaration was stimulated by National Religious Party mentor and former chief rabbi Avraham Shapira.  

Editorially, the International Jerusalem Post (Oct. 29, 2004) declared: “These religious soldiers, and the NRP leaders who support them, have put the rabbi’s claims of spiritual leadership to shame. It is hard to imagine a greater sin against the Jewish people and its only state than destroying its army and democracy, which is what those who advocate refusing orders would do. ... The prime minister has the responsibility to lead as he sees fit, within a democratic framework. It is those who advocate refusal to serve ... who most threaten that democratic framework, and who thereby most threaten themselves and us all.”  

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York, provides this assessment (New York Times, Oct. 25, 2004): “The dirty little secret of Israel’s settler movement is that it is filled with people who elevate the immutability of their religious convictions above the well-being of the state. For many settlers, as long as Israeli policy furthers their own religious convictions, they will present themselves as loyal citizens of the state. But if the policy deviates from their religious truth, they will turn on Israeli democracy with a vengeance. Rabbinic rulings compelling soldiers to disobey orders and the increasing threats against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are daggers aimed at the heart of Israeli democracy. After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, we in the American Jewish community swore never again to keep silent in the face of Jewish religious fanaticism. Now is the time for us to proclaim loudly, clearly and with one voice that while democratic dissent is legitimate, we will not tolerate the hijacking of our faith or the destruction of Israel’s democracy.”  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued a statement condemning Orthodox calls for violence against Sharon: “That these comments are made by religious leaders — by rabbis — make them even more repugnant. We must not allow Jewish tradition to be usurped by fanatics who seek to use Judaism to justify non-defensive violence and bloodshed.”  

In his statement, Yoffie invoked Rabin’s assassination, saying his movement would not “remain silent” this time. The Reform leader criticized one rabbi, Yosef Dayan, who declared on Israeli television that he wished for Sharon’s death and said that he was prepared to place a death curse on Sharon. Yoffie also noted that “the rabbi of Jerusalem’s old city, Avigdor Neventzal, said that anyone who gave up part of Israel was open to a “din rodef,” a religious license for a Jew to kill another Jew.  

The Forward (Oct. 29, 2004) reports that, “Conservative rabbis have attempted to counter such anti-Sharon rituals with a new prayer, put together by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Conservative Judaism’s Israeli arm, the Masorti Movement. In part, the prayer reads, ‘We pray to you, Ribon HaOlam, Lord of the Universe, to nullify the actions and words of those spewing hatred against the prime minister, rupturing the fabric of Israeli society.  

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