Israel and Judaism: Growth of Religious Extremism in Israel Threatens the Peace Process

By C, Allan | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 30, 2000 | Go to article overview

Israel and Judaism: Growth of Religious Extremism in Israel Threatens the Peace Process


C, Allan, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


ISRAEL AND JUDAISM: Growth of Religious Extremism in Israel Threatens The Peace Process

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

Just as the majority of Israelis and Palestinians have been moving toward acceptance of a compromise peace settlement for the region, the growth of religious extremism in Israel is making it increasingly difficult for the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak to move forward in the final stage talks. At the same time, many sectors of the American Jewish community are encouraging such extremism as a roadblock to the territorial adjustments which are necessary and which they oppose.

Settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are now gearing up for what they describe as the "final battle for our home." Militant rabbis are also weighing in. As they did in 1995, prior to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, they have issued statements declaring that giving up any portion of the "Land of Israel" is contrary to Jewish law.

When Rabin held office, the ultra-Orthodox weekly Hashavna ("The Week") was used by its publisher, Asher Zuckerman, to wage a vicious crusade against the prime minister. The magazine regularly called Rabin "a Kapo," "an anti-Semite," "ruthless," and "a pathological liar." The weekly, which is read by close to 20 percent of the ultra-Orthodox community, published a symposium on the question of whether Rabin deserved to die and the appropriate means of executing him. By the critical summer of 1995 Hashavna went so far as to charge that Rabin and Peres "are leading the state and its citizens to annihilation and must be placed before a firing squad."

A group of Orthodox rabbis gave religious sanction to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. These rabbis, both in Israel and abroad, revived two obsolete concepts--din rodef (the duty to kill a Jew who imperils the life and property of another Jew) and din moser (the duty to eliminate a Jew who intends to turn in another Jew to non-Jewish authorities). By relinquishing rule over parts of the biblical Land of Israel to the Palestinian Authority, these rabbis argued, the head of the Israeli government had become a moser. By thus branding Rabin, they effectively declared open season on his life. Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, an Orthodox rabbi critical of those who embarked upon this enterprise, declared: "Hundreds of people heard the word rodef in connection with the late prime minister months before and around the time of the murder. The fact that these discussions leaked out and inspired heated public debate in the religious community turned the obsolete notions of rodef and moser into household words."

"If Barak evacuates settlements, he might be murdered."

Now, once again, such extremism seems to be on the rise in Israel. For example, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, a key party in Prime Minister Barak's ruling coalition, compared Education Minister Yossi Sarid, head of the leftist Meretz Party, to Satan and two other hated figures in the Scriptures. At a sermon during the festival of Purim, Rabbi Yosef said Mr. Sarid "is Amalek [described in the Bible as the sworn enemy of Israel], he is Satan...May his memory be wiped out. He must be uprooted from the seed of Israel....Just as revenge was wrought on Haman, so it will be wrought on him."

The rabbi's words were received with thunderous applause and shouts of approval. This speech reminded many Israelis of the hostility which preceded Rabin's assassination, and caused Israel's attorney general seriously to consider a criminal prosecution.

In June, Benny Katzover, a settler leader, called Sarid "an executioner among executioners" because he is "ready to transfer tens of thousands of Jews to the enlightened regime of his excellency Yasser Arafat. …

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