The pipe-bomb that was set to kill Prof. Zeev Sternhell, Israel prize winner and authority on fascism in Europe and in Israel, was most likely set by a rightwing terrorist. That is simply because in Israel there are no leftwing terrorists. Not only does all the Jewish terrorism come from the right, so too all the hate mail, the threatening letters, the physical violence. When was the last time one of the Hebron settlers was awaken in the middle of the night by an angry leftwinger? When was the last time a rightwinger was struck or harrassed by a leftwinger?
Of course, not all rightwingers advocate violence against Jews or support terrorism. But all the Jewish terrorists come from the right side of the political spectrum.
Why is that?
Well, rightwingers will say that the leftwing does not have to engage in violence or terrorism; they support the Palestinians who do. This, of course, is a Big Lie. When the leftwingers – strictly speaking, the human rights activists, since there are very few leftwing Marxists around – condemn violations of human rights on both sides, the rightwingers reply that wittingly or unwittingly their protests encourage Arab terrorism.
Since not a single Arab terrorist has ever said that he was motivated to perpetuate acts of terror because of the incitement of leftwing Israelis and human right activists, we can only say that the claim that the leftwing plays into the hands of the terrorist is – at best – wishful thinking on the part of the right. Something to try to level a very slanted playing field.
Now, that is not to say that there are not leftwing Israelis who offer varying degrees of support to Palestinian resistance. And there are certainly people on the left (though not a whole lot – Fanon and Hondereich come to mind) who justify acts of violence against civilians by a dispossed, occupied, colonized people.
But all this is irrelevant to the point on hand, which is why actual acts of terrorism, not to mention harrassment, threatening letters, eggs thrown, etc., is virtually the exclusive territory of the rightwingers.
I think there are a few reasons for that well-known phenomenon, some obvious, some not so.
For one thing, many rightwingers are ultra-nationalists who celebrate Jewish power and the tough guy image, a la Maccabees, Betar, Kahane, etc. For them, violence and zealotry are mitzvot (see under Shimon and Levi). Anybody who doesn't agree with them, who doesn't buy into their idea of what is good for the tribe, is a traitor, a moyser/malshin/informant, a malshin, blah-blah-blah. And of course, according to Jewish law, it is a mitzvah to kill informants, to lynch them without any judicial procedure. So that takes care of one group of rightwingers.
A more interesting group – generally orthodox rabbis – feel that while, theoretically, folks like Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, etc., may deserve death, it would be imprudent and impractical to take the law in one's own hand. These are the folks who called Rabin a moyser before he died, and then professed shock and dismay when somebody took them literally. Some of them are more explicit than others, and some of them are profoundly sincere in their expressions of dismay.
The attempted assasination of Zev Sternhell is the latest in a string of attacks by rightwing elements against the left, ranging from personal harrassment (obscene phone calls, vicious talkbalks) to organizational harrassment (the Hebron settler thugs who harrass the tours of Breaking the Silence), to threats and physical attacks.
But your garden-variety ultra-nationalist celebration of power, typical of fascist movements, combined with the few scattered Jewish motifs in this direction, explains only some of the phenomenon.
For when you get down to it, the rightwing in Israel is not exactly a threatened minority; on the contrary, it ahs the upper hand. The settlers were moved from Gaza, but that was in order for Israel tighten its grip on the West Bank, or so thought Ariel Sharon. The settlements thrive; the outposts multiply; barukh ha-shem, things are going well, the settler leaders say. So why now, all of a sudden, do presumably rightwing terrorists try to blow up a professor who said – over five years ago -- that the Palestinians were unwise to attack over the Green Line?
I think the answer is twofold: a) the settler-extremists feel threatened by the negative media exposure and the minor judicial setbacks they have received; and b) they feel that their greater aspirations have been slown down by the exposure. While they really have no reason to feel threatened – the government will never move them – the settlers and their supporters don't like negative press, and certainly don't like criticism. Rabbi Israel Rosen, a prominent leader of the settlers, already said that Peace Now's Settlement Watch are made up of moyserim. So even though Peace Now's Settlement Watch is almost entirely ineffectual, and the settlers know that, the extremists feel…offended by it. And they are used to getting their way.
Similarly in Hebron. The settlers don't understand why the State allows a leftwing group like Breaking the Silence anywhere near Hebron – I mean, shouldn't the settlers call the shots? So their verbal and physical harrassment of the group is not so much because they feel genuinely threatened, as because they feel offended. If anything has been threatened, it is their masculinity.
When you are used to getting your own way, even minor things seem to be threats.
After all, the groups that lash out against the left are almost always pampered by the government. So for them, losing even minor publicity or legal battles is a terrible blow to their ego.
Kinda like the bully Biff in the Back to the Future movies. He may terrorize the school, but he is sensitive to even the slightest challenge to his authority.
As for the pious exclamations of the Defense Minister Ehud Barak that such things will not be tolerated – the best take on this is by Breaking the Silence's Mikhael Manekin, writing in Ynet here.
To save you from double-clicking, you can read it below.
Barak, just do your job
Barak knows far-right violence isn't new; he just needs to do something about it
To the honorable Defense Minister, Ehud Barak:
I was surprised to hear your response to the pipe bomb placed outside the home of Professor Ze'ev Sternhell. You said you would not allow any element within Israeli society to harass people who express their opinions.
Your position is clear, and I assume that most members of Israeli society, both on the Right and Left, would agree with you. Yet in your capacity as defense minister, who has been serving for two years now, you are not merely another concerned citizen. The incident that took place is under your direct responsibility; and it is most certainly not a unique or new act.
As defense minister, you're not supposed to be surprised. The organization I'm active in, Breaking the Silence, has been holding tours in Hebron for years, and we have been harassed by settlers for a long time now.
Hebron, as you know, is the lab where far rightists test the limits of the Israeli government's tolerance. The Jewish terrorism originating in the town, terror that is directed mostly at Palestinians, is known to all. We too, Israelis calling for the law to be enforced, have suffered the abuse of this group. The hurling of eggs and stones, shouts, swearwords, threats, and even physical violence have become a part of our tour routine. The police do not arrest the rioters. It is easier for them to remove us from town.
Recently the police canceled yet another planned tour. The reason: Police officials claim that they are concerned for our safety and fear that radical settlers are coming to the city from all across the territories. The police fear these settlers because they do not have the tools to deal with them. You, Mr. Barak, are not providing them with those tools.
Hebron is not the only focal point, as you know. In the past year we have witnessed many incidents in the south Mount Hebron area, in the Yitzhar region, and elsewhere. Violence is no longer directed only at Palestinians, or even leftists, but rather, also at soldiers and police officers.
In recent weeks we saw soldiers and a military outpost being attacked. Soldiers and police officers are scared to approach some Jewish communities. All the talk about the deterioration of the rule of law in the territories has become banal.
"We won't let any element within Israeli society to harass others," you say resolutely, Defense Minister Barak. Yet you've let those things happen from your first day on the job. Instead of making declarations, you should face the public and say: "On this front, I failed."
Yet more importantly, you must act. After all, any Israeli who has been following the events of the recent year knows that the deterioration has merely started. The explosive device directed at Professor Sternhell is not a new incident; it's merely closer to your home.
No need to be shocked; just do your job.
Michael Mankin is a Breaking the Silence activist