Jews Don't Kill Jews

Article excerpt

"Jews don't kill Jews" was the shocked response of much of the Jewish world to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. This slogan certainly has its uses as a myth of Jewish morality aimed at bringing an increasingly polarized polity back to some measure of civility. But myths of this sort can blind as well as enlighten: Had the Israeli security services not believed that "Jews don't kill Jews," they might have been more alert to the threat of a Jewish assassin. More generally, faith in the superior morality of the Jewish people can act paradoxically to paralyze moral sensitivity. Thus, for example, a variant on the present slogan, that Jews don't kill innocent Arabs," blinded many to the terrible moral dilemmas of the occupation.

A dose of history may be in order if the blindness that led to the Rabin assassination is not to be perpetuated. Jews do kill other Jews, and Jewish history bears ample witness to the fact. At the end of the Book of Kings, we are told that the Babylonians, having conquered Jerusalem, appointed a Judaean named Gedaliah as governor of those Judaeans who had not been exiled. A group of loyalists of the Davidic monarchy then assassinated Gedaliah and his followers, a murder that is commemorated in the Jewish calendar with the "Fast of Gedaliah." Centuries later, the rabbis commented that the Second Temple was destroyed because of "gratuitous hatred," and, in fact, the history of the time, as recorded by Josephus, contains much violence by Jews against Jews.

Once Jews lost political sovereignty, it is probable that intra-Jewish violence decreased, yet it was certainly not absent in the many centuries before the modern period. Jewish communities in Spain and Poland were reported to have executed Jews thought to be "informers" to gentile powers. In the nineteenth century, agents of the Russian Jewish communities, known as khappers, kidnapped Jewish children to meet the quotas for the Czar's army.

Yet, it was the emergence of modem Jewish politics at the end of the nineteenth century that created the conditions for violence by Jews against Jews. The conflict between the Bund and the Zionists was not only carried out on the plane of ideology, but also erupted in a number of instances into physical violence, including attempts at assassination. In Palestine itself, a number of assassinations of Jews reflected the political conflicts within the Zionist movement. The best-known case was, of course, the assassination of the socialist Zionist mayor of Tel Aviv, Chaim Arlosoroff, in 1933 by two assassins who, despite continuing controversy, appear to have been agents of the right-wing Revisionists. Less well-known is the assassination of Jacob de Haan, a rather bizarre Dutch Jew who, after many political and religious incarnations, wound up as an ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist and was accused of collaborating with the Arabs. …