Israel’s ultra-Orthodox are its latest neo-fascist thugs
Gideon Levy | Apr. 24, 2021 | 11:41 PM - Haaretz.com
The most frightening and depressing thing that happened in Jerusalem recently isn’t the pogroms against the Palestinians. These of course are endlessly frightening and depressing, but most frightening and depressing is something new about the identity of the assailants.
We already had the Lehava phalanxes, the La Familia militias and the hilltop thugs, and now the ultra-Orthodox have joined in. There’s a new bully in the neighborhood and they’re scarier than all the rest.
The rioters in shtreimels might sweep Israel to fascist places it hasn’t known before, thanks to their huge electoral potential. The ultra-Orthodox are the reserves of the neo-Nazi movement developing in Israel, and they promise a great future for MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Without the ultra-Orthodox, those two are a mere curiosity. Thanks to the ultra-Orthodox, their party might become the Alternative for Germany or the Sweden Democrats of Israel, yet much more extreme than those two most far-right parties in Western Europe. The brownshirts could change their color to white. This is frightening because the ultra-Orthodox are many, and it’s depressing because there was once a different ultra-Orthodox majority that I once respected and knew, one fallen victim to persecution and ostracism.
The original sin was the establishment of huge ultra-Orthodox settlements in the 1990s that became the largest settlements in the West Bank, much larger than their ideological predecessors. What began as a low-cost housing solution, free of political beliefs, became extreme nationalism. With terrifying speed, those who until a generation ago were considered non-Zionist or political doves with leaders like Rabbi Elazar Shach and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef became bearers of the flag of Israeli fascism.
Where are the days when they burned trash bins only because of desecration of the Sabbath, and who would have thought we would miss those days? Where are the rabbis who said “there’s no obstacle to relinquishing parts of the Land of Israel” and “relinquishing [these lands] for peace is not relinquishing,” as Rabbi Shach said.
The fear came true: The views of the ultra-Orthodox were decided by their place of residence. They proved that it’s impossible to live on stolen Palestinian land without hating its owners. They settled in the Palestinian West Bank and became wonderfully integrated into the apartheid landscape around them. They became haters of Arabs and supporters of the far right. The road from there to participation in pogroms was short.
In last month’s election they expressed this clearly. The Religious Zionism alliance became the third largest party in their community. In Jerusalem it won 9 percent of the vote and in Betar Ilit 10 percent, six times more than Likud. In Bnei Brak and in Modi’in Ilit, the largest Jewish city in the territories, it’s the third largest party. With reserves like this, one day we’ll have a Kahanist as prime minister; half of Israel already considers Naftali Bennett a legitimate candidate and even longs for him.
True, only a few hundred ultra-Orthodox took part in the pogroms, but the rabbis did nothing to stop them, maybe because they knew that the genie was out of the bottle. Now the numbers will grow. The young ultra-Orthodox might change the rules of the game.
The pictures from the past few days in Jerusalem are terrifying. Leave aside “proper” media coverage, which tries to maintain “balance” when on one side is the occupation, which has no balance. Leave aside the shocking pronouncements by the public security minister and the police commanders who condemned only Palestinian violence. This violence is the most justified and restrained act of resistance against injustice and other violence, and it comes as a direct response to the police’s ongoing abuse of the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the pogroms against them by far-right extremists.
Make no mistake: The mass attacks on Arabs in Jerusalem are the harbingers of Israeli neo-Nazism. Intimidating marches, beatings, arson, looting and calls for death are exactly what neo-Nazism looks like. God save us from its ultra-Orthodox emissaries who have joined the fray.