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Rhetorical Violence and Religious Extremism: A Deadly Combination

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 1995

The murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was,  
it now seems clear, the result of carefully planned efforts by Israel’s  
far-right religious extremists to bring an end to the Middle East peace process.  

The leader and several members of the shadowy Eyal organization  
have been arrested. The group hid enough arms in the attic of the confessed  
assassin’s house "to make any terror group proud," officials  
said. Police Minster Moshe Shahal declared that, "We believe there was  
a conspiracy between a group of persons who had the infrastructure and prepared  
their aims quite carefully."

Mr. Shahal reported, in addition, that the assassin was  
the leader of a band of young religious nationalists who was influenced by militant  
rabbis who effectively issued a death warrant for Mr. Rabin by invoking the  
"pursuer’s decree" of Jewish religious law. The law holds that  
a Jew is morally obligated to kill someone who poses a mortal danger to him.  

The Israeli police believe that Mr. Amir and his colleagues  
acted on the basis of a religious decree declaring Mr. Rabin a mortal enemy  
of the Jewish people who must be killed.

"These are true believers," said Ehud Sprinzak,  
a professor at Hebrew University and a leading Israeli expert on the radical  
right. "They believe it was God, not so much the Israeli Army, but the  
hand of God that gave them back these lands in 1967. It was God sending a message  
that he was ready to redeem them. They have built a world of Torah, with Yeshivas,  
school, a religious lifestyle. Now this is committing a huge religious sin,  
a sin against God. . . . This will be a very, very dramatic crisis. This could  
involve several important rabbis, very revered authorities."



Must Be Killed  

Professor Sprinzak recalled that this fall, after speaking  
on the radio, he got a call from a student at the Tomb of Joseph yeshiva in  
Nablus who said "the situation is worse than you thought." Rabbis  
at his yeshiva were saying the Prime Minister must be killed, the student said.  

Mr. Amir’s motives, Police Minister Shahal said,  
"drew on Halachic rulings made by rabbis who decreed that the ‘pursuer’s  
decree’ has effect on Rabin." Halachic rulings are oral interpretations  
of religious law. And Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun, a founder of the settlers movement,  
charged that other rabbis had sanctioned the killings and threatened to expose  
the rabbis involved unless they resign their religious posts. He warned that  
"there are people still calling certain people pursuers, invoking the law  
of pursuer about Shimon Peres," the Acting Prime Minister.

Professor SSprinzak also suggested another religious  
concept, that of a "moiser," meaning a Jew who surrenders other Jews  
to the Gentiles. The Halachic rule there, he said "is that the person who  
commits this crime should be killed."

The larger responsibility for Mr. Rabin’s assassination,  
however, may be shared by an increasingly visible set of extremist groups in  
Israel, and their like-minded friends and allies in the United States. This  
violent act shows us exactly where the combination of religious extremism and  
rhetorical violence can lead. The killing did not take place in a vacuum.

In the days before the assassination, opponents of the  
peace process portrayed Prime Minister Rabin as a "traitor." Posters  
were displayed at rallies showing him dressed as a Nazi SS trooper. In July,  
fifteen fundamentalist rabbis called on Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey orders  
connected with the evacuation of West Bank military installations as part of  
Stage 2 of the peace process.



Calls for Death  

In a report published one week before Rabin’s murder,  
The Jerusalem Report printed a story about calls for Rabin’s death  
by some on the religious right: "Yitzhak Rabin does not have long to live.  
The angels have their orders. Suffering and death await the prime minister,  
or so say the kabbalists who have cursed him with the pulsa denura — Aramaic  
for ‘lashes of fire’ — for his ‘heretical’ policies.  
‘He’s inciting against Judaism,’ says the Jerusalem rabbi who  
. . . read out the most terrifying of curses in the tradition of Jewish mysticism  
— opposite Rabin’s residence on the eve of Yom Kippur: ‘And on  
him, Yitzhak, son of Rosa, known as Rabin,’ the Aramaic text states, ‘we  
have permission . . . to demand from the angels of destruction that they take  
a sword to this wicked man . . . to kill him . . . for handing over the Land  
of Israel to our enemies, the sons of Ishmael.’"

Acts of violence by religious zealots in Israel have  
been increasing. In September, Jewish settlers stormed a Palestinian girls school  
in Hebron, beat its headmistress and injured at least four pupils who took part  
in a street protest. A municipal spokesman said, "The school is about 20  
yards from a Jewish settlement. Some settlers attacked the school and tried  
to get rid of the Palestinian flag on it. They attacked the headmistress, and  
even the little girls there, with bottles and pipes." In another incident  
in September, five armed men in Israeli army uniforms, some of them masked,  
terrorized Halhoul, an Arab village on the West Bank, forcing their way into  
private houses and interrogating the Palestinians they met. They shot one young  
man to death as his father watched, bound at the hands and helpless to intercede.  
Responsibility for the killing was claimed by Eyal, a spinoff of the late Meir  
Kahane’s Kach movement — the same group which is implicated in the  
Rabin assassination.

Among the most traumatic acts of violence was the February  
1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Baruch  
Goldstein, a physician and ultra-right Israeli settler, gunned them down as  
they worshipped.

Goldstein, a militant Zionist from New York, had been  
a member of the Jewish Defense League, founded by the late Meir Kahane, who  
urged his followers to emigrate to Israel and called for the removal of all  
Arabs from the West Bank. After the violent mass murder at Hebron, Goldstein  
was viewed as a hero by many of the Israeli settlers. At his funeral, Rabbi  
Yaacov Perrin declared that "1 million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail."  
Shmuel Hacohen, a teacher in a Jerusalem college, said: "Baruch Goldstein  
was the greatest Jew alive, not in one way but in every way . . . There are  
no innocent Arabs here . . . He was no crazy . . . Killing isn’t nice,  
but sometimes it is necessary."



Traitor to Israel  

Ehud Sprinzak says that, "These are the people who  
see Rabin as a traitor to the land of Israel, to its people and to God. His  
perceived crime dates back to the covenant made between Abraham and God to create  
greater Israel, which will in turn pave the way for the Messiah and the redemption  
of mankind." This view is shared by some Christian fundamentalists who  
have embraced the settler movement, leading to such unlikely alliances as that  
between Menachem Begin and the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

In the eyes of these religious fundamentalists, Rabin  
committed the ultimate act of betrayal when he signed the latest agreement in  
the peace process ceding control of much of the West Bank of the Jordan River  
— what the Bible calls the lands of Judea and Samaria — to the Palestinians,  
and thus also ceding any imminent prospect of creating greater Israel. The ultra-right  
believes that Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Jerusalem during the  
1967 Middle East War was a sign of God. All of the current movements grow out  
of this belief. The assassin, Yigal Amir, told authorities that God had ordered  
him to kill Rabin.

The intolerance of Israel’s religious fundamentalists  
has been growing for many years. Both the Israeli Government and leaders in  
the American Jewish community have repeatedly downplayed the dangers of such  
movements. Recalling a visit to Israel in 1980, Washington Post columnist  
Richard Cohen writes: "Back in 1980, Rabbi Moshe Levenger, a major force  
in the Israel settlements movement, led me through the market at Hebron, wading  
through Arabs with a contempt and disdain that I found both repulsive and downright  
scary. Levenger acted as if God has ensured his safety; I, however, had not  
gotten such a message. Levenger is an important figure for a number of reasons.  
In the first place, the settlement he and his wife, Miriam, established in Hebron  
was clearly illegal. The government moved to protect it anyway, and ultimately,  
provided it with utilities. Second, Levenger was later convicted of killing  
an unarmed Arab in a burst of anger — and served no more than 10 weeks  
in jail. In other words, Levenger has been the personification of the Israel  
Government’s refusal to come to grips with its extremists. Some politicians  
admire them; others merely want their votes."

Wall Street Journal columnist Albert R. Hunt wrote  
of a visit he made to Israel eight years ago. At that time, he interviewed a  
rabbi who headed a small right-wing religious party that was part of the Likud  
Party’s government coalition. Hunt’s colleague, Karen Elliot House,  
asked the rabbi what was the central issue facing Israel. His reply: "Teddy  
Kollek and movies on the Sabbath." Hunt writes that, "I started to  
chuckle but stopped when he launched into an incredibly vitriolic tirade against  
secular Israeli political leaders . . . When I heard that Prime Minister Rabin  
had been assassinated, I thought of that rabbi and his hateful venom."  



Religious Fanaticism  

In Israel, there are many who believe that such religious  
fanaticism has been tolerated for much too long. Ze’ev Chafets, a columnist  
for The Jerusalem Report, says that what is needed is "cutting off  
public funds to schools and youth organizations that indoctrinate children in  
anti-democratic ideals; strictly enforcing the laws against inciting violence,  
court-martialing soldiers who refuse to carry out orders to remove settlers  
. . . cracking down on the illegal Jewish terrorist organizations . . . It also  
means that voters must let politicians of both parties know that they will be  
severely punished at the polls if they make common cause, overtly or covertly,  
with the fanatics. Israel must take a long step along the road from tribal solidarity  
to modern nationhood."

Amos Oz, Israel’s most celebrated writer, refers  
to his country’s extremists as "Hezbollah in a skullcap." He  
says that Rabin’s death has made him realize that "the real battle  
in the Middle East is no longer between Arabs and Jews but between fanatics  
of both faiths and the rest of the people in the Middle East who want to find  
some reasonable compromise." He states that, "Compromise is synonymous  
with life itself" and that "the opposite of compromise is not integrity  
but suicide and death."

Some of the most violent and extreme Jewish figures in  
Israel emigrated from the U.S. Among these, of course, are Meir Kahane and Baruch  
Goldstein. And in the U.S. there are many who welcomed Mr. Rabin’s murder.  
In Brooklyn, more than a hundred followers of Meir Kahane gathered together.  
"I consider his assassination to be divine justice and divine retribution,"  
said Nekamah Cohen, who described himself as a "religious-militant Zionist."  
Cohen declared: "There is a law that if a fellow Jew hands over or is about  
to hand over a Jewish community to a non-Jewish enemy or a non-Jewish government,  
such as under the Roman Empire, then that Jew is considered a traitor who should  
be handed over unto death."

Or consider Rabbi Avraham Hecht, chief rabbi of Congregation  
Sh’are Zion in Brooklyn and president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America,  
a national organization of 540 Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Hecht, on June 19, said  
that, "According to Jewish law, any one person — you can apply it  
to who you want — any one person who willfully, consciously, intentionally  
hands over human bodies or human property or the human wealth of the Jewish  
people to an alien people is guilty of the sin for which the penalty is death.  
And, according to Maimonides — you can quote me — it says very clearly,  
if a man kills him, he has done a good deed."



Death Threats  

Since the peace process began, Israeli consul general  
in New York Colette Avital has received death threats from Jewish extremists.  
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. was pelted with eggs at a New York synagogue.  
Cabinet member Shulamit Aloni was punched in the stomach while standing at the  
lectern at the New York Salute to Israel Parade — by one of the parade’s  
organizers. Two unexploded bombs were found outside the offices of Americans  
for Peace Now, a group which supports the peace process, in Manhattan. Mike  
Guzofsky, head of Kahane Chai’s U.S. branch, has boasted that "directly  
or indirectly, we receive millions of dollars every year."

When she was asked by Charles Gibson of ABC’s "Good  
Morning America" whether she blamed the opposition party, the Likud, for  
fostering what she described as a "political climate: in Israel which contributed  
to her husband’s murder, Leah Rabin responded: "Yes. Surely I blame,  
surely I blame them. If you ever heard their speeches at the Knesset, you would  
understand what I mean. They were very, very violent in their expressions. ‘We  
are selling the country down the drain.’ ‘There’ll be no Israel  
after this peace agreement.’"

Asked, "Does this country come together now for  
peace, or do you think the divisions worsen?" Mrs. Rabin replied: "Not  
together, not together, but the balance between the supporters of peace and  
those who oppose it will change . . . The silent majority was too silent, and  
it’s going to be very loud now. So if I have any consolation, any resource  
of strength and thinking that this wasn’t just another meaningless tragedy  
for us . . . it wasn’t meaningless in that today the silent majority will  
stop being silent. People express their regrets: ‘Where were we? Why did  
we leave you alone in the battle for peace? Why didn’t we get out to the  
streets to support you?’ And this is going to change now, I believe."  

For some time, Prime Minister Rabin had been concerned  
by the vocal enemies of the peace process in the American Jewish community,  
as well as with the hesitation of the majority of American Jews who supported  
the peace process to speak out.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Davar  
in July, Rabin criticized a "very limited group of rabbis" from the  
U.S. He declared: "I hear strange appeals by a small group of rabbis from  
the U.S. for whom perhaps the name ayatollahs is more fitting than rabbis."  
Just hours after he signed the peace agreement with Yasir Arafat in September,  
1995, Rabin met with leaders of American Jewish groups and sternly warned that  
lobbying against the peace process could cause a serious rift in Israel’s  
relations with the Jewish community in the U.S. Discussing those American Jews  
who had organized to oppose the peace agreement, Rabin declared that, "Never  
before have we witnessed an attempt by U.S. Jews to pressure Congress against  
the policies of a legitimate, democratically elected government."



Discredit Peace Process  

Those in America who seek to discredit the peace process,  
states Abba Eban, former Israeli Foreign Minister, are poor friends. He states:  
"Some Jewish groups have lent hospitable ears to an insolent Israeli lobby  
that seeks to prevent the conclusion of a peace treaty between Syria and Israel  
. . . The consequences of the positions and advocacies (of these groups) . .  
. would be to derail the most far-reaching and internationally supported peace  
process ever conceived by Israeli and Arab representatives. The Middle East  
would be restored to the era of rigorous occupations, repressions and revolts  
. . . These are anti-Israeli positions in terms of consequences."

The fact that so many on Israel’s radical and violence-prone  
fringe have origins in the U.S. — and receive continued support from the  
U.S. — should be of concern to all Americans. After Baruch Goldstein’s  
murder of 29 Palestinians, Prime Minister Rabin referred to the American-born  
Goldstein and many of his allies as "a foreign implant." While Americans  
account for only a tiny fraction of Israel’s five million people, barely  
one per cent, The New York Times reports that, "On the right, American  
accents are unmistakable, not only at the Kahane-inspired fringes but also among  
more moderate settlers in the territories. According to some estimates, 15 percent  
of the roughly 130,000 settlers are originally from the U.S., many of them people  
who went straight from New York to the West Bank and who have at best a tenuous  
connection to mainstream Israel."

Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Yossi Melman,  
an Israeli journalist, notes that, "Dr. Baruch Goldstein was no exception  
. . . He was preceded by Elliot Goodman and Craig Latner. In April, 1982, Goodman  
of Tenafly, N.J. stormed into the El Omar mosque on Temple Mount in Jerusalem  
and fired into a Palestinian crowd. Miraculously, ‘only’ two worshipers  
were killed and 11 wounded. Two years later, Latner and three colleagues, all  
from Jewish neighborhoods in New York, opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinian  
workers near the same city. Five were injured . . . Successive Israeli governments,  
including the present one, regarded these incidents as isolated, refusing to  
admit they were products of a larger psychological environment — the Jewish  
settlers’ movement that had nourished Palestinian hatred. The Israeli government  
is now paying the price of this accommodating attitude toward Jewish extremism."  

Many of those involved in the most brutal acts of violence  
in Israel have received an Orthodox religious education and have acted out of  
religious motives. Rabbi Shlomo Sternberg of Cambridge, Mass. noted that, "  
. . . these atrocities . . . were not committed by nonreligious national extremists  
. . . Baruch Goldstein received his education from within the ‘modern orthodox’  
community and so did many of his associates . . . From all accounts, Dr. Goldstein  
was a paragon of self-sacrifice and devotion to others . . . It is hard to believe  
that such a person could become a mass murderer . . . It must take years of  
training. Dr. Goldstein was a model student at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, Yeshiva  
University and Einstein Medical School. I have yet to hear public statements  
of contrition from the leaders of these educational institutions."



Orthodox Literalism  

The educational institutions of the modern Orthodox community  
in Israel and the U.S., states Rabbi Sternberg, "have drifted over the  
years into a form of literalism, fundamentalism and obscurantism in their religious  
program. Combined with an excellent secular education, this tends to lead to  
a rebellion against religion at one end and absolute mental compartmentalization  
at the other, with attendant zealotry and extremism . . . One of the great lessons  
of the Bible is that morality transcends religion and that God himself can be  
called to task, as when our father Abraham remonstrated with God in the story  
of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is precisely this lesson that cannot be grasped by  
the fundamentalists and literalists."

Ze’ev Chafets of The Jerusalem Report has  
urged American Jewish leaders to conduct "a thorough examination of what  
is being taught and what messages are being implicitly conveyed at American  
Jewish schools that receive community money; making certain that Kahanist ‘charities’  
do not get a U.S. tax exemption; refusing donations from wealthy Kahane supporters,  
and fully cooperating with Israeli authorities in screening out potentially  
dangerous immigrants . . . Baruch Goldstein was an Israeli murderer, but he  
was also an American Jewish tragedy."

Gershom Gorenberg, writing in The Jerusalem Report,  
sharply criticized Israeli rabbis "and other racists who claimed the mantle  
of Torah." He reports that, "Then-chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahy was  
among the prominent rabbis who eulogized Kahane in 1990 . . . In Israel and  
abroad, many Orthodox rabbis have treated murderous hatred toward non-Jews as  
a minor doctrinal difference . . . rather than as heresy. That acceptance allowed  
such hatred to grow like a malignancy . . .The choice for religious Jews today  
is between the cult of conquest and Judaism."

In recent days, militant Jewish groups in the U.S. have  
launched an all out attack against Prime Minister Rabin and his government for  
its movement toward peace. A group calling itself "Pro Israel" placed  
a full page advertisement in The New York Times (Feb. 9, 1994) declaring,  
among other things, that "Rabin and his associates." as the ad referred  
to the Israeli government, are "embarked on a campaign of mass deception."  
This "deception" is, the ad states, "aimed at selling a plan  
to Israelis, world Jewry and others that could mean disaster for the Jewish  
state." The Rabin government, because of its peace efforts, was described  
as "a government of national suicide."



Broader Spectrum  

Those signing this ad were hardly obscure religious extremists,  
but represented a far broader spectrum of opinion. Among them was Sam Schachter,  
President of American Friends of Likud, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, Dean of Yeshivas  
Brisk of Chicago, and Professor Jerold S. Auerbach of Wellesley College.

Discussing the rhetoric of this ad, Leonard Fein, writing  
in The Forward, declared: "It is one thing to think that Prime Minister  
Rabin is inadequately sensitive to Israel’s security requirements; it is  
quite another to assert that ‘Rabin and his associates’ are ‘embarked  
on a campaign of mass deception.’ That is what the ad claims and this is  
more than offensive language. It lays the groundwork for a post-peace revanchism  
that can be as destabilizing to the region as Islamic Fundamentalism. A campaign  
of mass deception: Then we are being stabbed in the back, and anything goes.  
That is not merely a provocation; it is an incitement."

Establishment Jewish leaders and organizations have failed  
to make clear their opposition to bigotry and racism on the fringes of the Jewish  
community. After Meir Kahane’s death, a number of Jewish establishment  
figures saw fit to attend his funeral. Among them was Seymour Reich, then president  
of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and Abraham Foxman  
of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. The rabbi who conducted  
the service, Moses Tendler, a prominent figure in the Orthodox world, referred  
to Kahane as "a tsaddik" or saint, and "a giant." Rabbi  
Tendler declared that God "spoke to Rabbi Kahane clearly."

In his biography of Kahane, False Prophet, Robert  
Friedman showed that Kahane had called for "liquidation" not only  
of Arabs, but also of Jews with whom he disagreed. He pointed out that Kahane  
raised as much as $500,000 a year from American supporters. In his book, he  
reports that, "Parlor meetings arranged by Emanuel Rackman, the rabbi of  
the prestigious Fifth Avenue Synagogue and now dean of Bar Ilan University in  
Israel, earned Kahane up to $50,000 for an afternoon talk." Bar Ilan University  
is a center of extremist thinking and one of its students, Yigal Amir, acted  
on these teachings when he murdered Yitzhak Rabin. Robert Friedman lamented  
that Meir Kahane was not as "marginal" a figure as many Jewish leaders  
said he was.



Hooligan and Racist  

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, professor of religious studies at  
the University of South Florida, declared that, "Rabbi Meir Kahane was  
not only a political hooligan but a racist. To his theology only one word applies:  
heresy. Rabbi Kahane was not a good Jew; he was a bad Jew . . . The Torah teaches  
that all of us are ‘in our — God’s — image, after our likeness.’  
Rabbi Kahane preaches heresy, since in the name of ‘Judaism’ he would  
have denied elementary rights of domicile and property to the Arab population  
of Palestine, not to mention life itself. The Torah . . . teaches that God prefers  
the victim to the murderer, the persecuted to the persecutor. So Rabbi Kahane  
systematically misrepresented the Torah."

When Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians, it was  
said that he was a "lone gunman" and Jewish leaders both in Israel  
and the U.S. tended to downplay the danger of extremism in their midst. Now,  
in the case of Yigal Amir and those who were involved in the murder of Yitzhak  
Rabin, such a case can no longer be made. In a report about Amir, The Washington  
(Nov. 12, 1995) headlined its story, "Israel’s Mainstream  
Brings Forth A Killer." Authors Barton Gellman and Laura Blumenfeld, writing  
from Ramat Gan, note that, "The 25-year-old assassin . . . is neither a  
freak nor a misfit. He is something more disturbing to many Israelis: a young  
man of discipline and multiple gifts who thrived in the nation’s mainstream  
and believed he was serving it by murdering its elected leader. His decision  
to kill reflected — perhaps as much as it distorted — the values he  
acquired in a journey through Israel’s diverse establishments and some  
of their storied elites."

Amir attended Krem D’Yavne yeshiva, a religious  
Zionist center that combines Torah study and army service. He did infantry training,  
then army service in Lebanon and Gaza with the Golani Brigade. In an interview  
with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Boaz Nagar, a fellow Orthodox soldier,  
recalled that, "Yigal never compromised. He always arrived first at synagogue  
and never fell asleep during services. When it came to religious matters, he  
was a pain, stubborn as an ass. He wouldn’t let us breathe." He treated  
Palestinians in a brutal manner, recalls Nagar: "In Golani, we all hit  
Arabs. I was guilty too. But Yigal was something extraordinary. On a routine  
search in Jabalya (a Gaza refugee camp), Yigal sprang into action with a capital  
A. He hit them in the mouth, he shoved them around and destroyed their property.  
He enjoyed taunting them, just for the fun of it." After a year and a half  
in the Golani Brigade, Amir returned to the yeshiva.



Extremism Fueled by Teachers  

At the yeshiva, his extremism seems to have been fueled  
by his teachers. Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg, the head of the yeshiva, explained  
that, "For 2,000 years, we waited to return to Israel. And the minute it  
seems to come true, the dream breaks. We thought we were on the way to redemption,  
but it seemed we were going the other way. Yigal was thinking what we all were  
thinking. But he took it a step further."

Amir and other extremists listened regularly to Adir  
Zik, a popular broadcaster on the settlers’ pirate radio Channel 7. On  
one broadcast, Zik read from the definition of traitor in the dictionary: it  
is someone, he said, "who acts against his friends, against his people,  
against his country, or aids the enemy. So what do you guys have to say about  
Rabin?" Turning to Israel’s criminal law, Zik read from the penalty  
for treason. "His sentence," Zik said, "and listen closely ladies  
and gentlemen, is death or life imprisonment."

Finally, some Jewish leaders in the U.S. may be awakening  
to the dangers of religious zealotry. They are also coming to understand the  
part they have played by their long silence as the forces of intolerance grew  
ever stronger. "We bear some responsibility for letting a handful of zealots  
spread that kind of hatred," said Martin Begun, president of New York’s  
Jewish Community Relations Council. "It’s time to delegitimize those  
on the extreme right who have been preaching hatred and violence."

Colette Avital, Israel’s Consul General in New York,  
said that the murder of Yitzhak Rabin should serve as a "wake up call to  
American Jews, especially those in New York." She states that, "Some  
of the extreme elements come from New York. Many people tend to think those  
are nuts and crazies. They say, ‘Let’s not pay too much attention  
to them; it increases their importance.’ But I feel that unless you recognize  
and deal with a problem, it can grow to larger proportions."

The link between militants in Israel and in New York  
cannot be underestimated, the Consul General suggested. She is troubled that  
most American Jews have tended to ignore the fanatic fringe. "There are  
Jewish newspapers that week after week had a campaign to portray the Israeli  
Government as Nazis. For two years, almost no American objected to it. I would  
tell people, ‘Something has to be done — this is indoctrination.’  
But they would say, ‘Oh, almost nobody reads it.’" The paper  
had an impact, she added.



Delegitimize Extremists  

Mrs. Avital called upon Orthodox rabbis to take action:  
"They have a duty to take to task the extreme elements of the movement.  
They are the only ones who have the stature. It is important to delegitimize  
these people, to totally isolate them, to say this does not represent Judaism."  

As the peace process proceeded, and opposition became  
more extreme, the leaders of mainstream American Jewish organizations were largely  
silent. Thomas Friedman, author of the book From Beirut To Jerusalem,  
who served as The New York Times correspondent in both Lebanon and Israel,  
recently wrote that, "The reason that Mr. Rabin had nothing but contempt  
for most members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,  
the reason he lambasted them on his last visit here, was because he knew that  
he was in a war for peace and these so-called American Jewish leaders had left  
him alone on the battlefield, because they did not have the courage to take  
a stand . . . For everything there is a season, and this is the season of choices.  
Yitzhak Rabin made his. How about you?"

The similarities between Jewish extremists who oppose  
the peace process and Islamic fundamentalists who share their goals are striking.  
Just as Muslin militants murdered Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for making  
peace, and just as Islamic terrorists are now trying through violence to end  
the peace process, so Jewish extremists are doing exactly the same thing. They  
are mirror images of one another. From prison, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who  
was convicted for leading a fundamentalist Islamic plot to destroy landmarks  
in New York, hailed the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. He said: "The Muslims  
were not able to get him killed for what he did, due to strict security. Well,  
Allah had sent a Jew to do that."

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a humanities professor at New  
York University, says that rabbis who called for Rabin’s murder are no  
better than bloody-minded mullahs. "What you are dealing with is the Jewish  
version of Khomenism," he says. "The overwhelming majority of American  
Jews support the peace process. But these maniacs are crazy. They are inquisitors.  
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Spanish Inquisition burned the bodies of  
Jews and heretics in order to save their souls, and they did it in good conscience.  
This kind of fanaticism can permit the greatest swinishness in good conscience."  



Problems Not Unique  

Sadly, Israel’s problems are not unique. Religious  
extremists have been brutally slaughtering their opponents "in the name  
of God" from the beginning of time. In the Inquisition, the Crusades and  
a host of religious wars we have seen this in the Christian West. In India and  
Pakistan, Hindus and Moslems engage in such mutual hatred. In Ireland —  
in the Balkans — the dangerous combination of religion and nationalism  
has caused untold misery. The essence of the Zionist philosophy — which  
confuses a universal religion dedicated to God with nationalism committed to  
particular geographic boundaries — sows the seeds for the zealotry we now  
see in Israel and in some sectors of the American Jewish community.

The latest development should be a cautionary tale for  
Americans, and particularly for American Jews. Jewish organizations fight bigotry  
in all sectors of society — but within their own ranks. Rhetorical violence  
and religious extremism are a deadly combination — as the murder of Yitzhak  
Rabin shows us so clearly.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.