Jewish terror has been around since Israel’s founding, but an increasingly radical ideology has changed the nature of the threat it poses.
Earlier this month, the Shin Bet revealed that a group of Jewish teens was arrested on suspicion of committing terrorist acts, including the murder of a Palestinian woman by stone-throwing. It was also reported that before the arrest, several extremist activists traveled to the youths’ homes, violating the religious prohibition against driving on Shabbat to do so, in order to advise them on how to conduct themselves under interrogation.
One of these activists was Meir Ettinger, the grandson of Meir Kahane and a veteran of arrests and interrogations himself. Until recently, Ettinger was also the prime focus of the Shin Bet’s Jewish division. At the same time, about a hundred rabbis published an open letter to the prime minister, justice minister and interior minister protesting the teens’ arrest and the conditions of their detention.
Some of the signatories to this unusual letter were rabbis not associated with the extremist circles surrounding the activists. The letter also did not include any moral statement regarding the deed at the center of the investigation. “The Shin Bet’s unacceptable interrogation methods in the Duma case were revealed, and just this week the court disqualified confessions that were taken by the Shin Bet from someone suspected of a nationalist offense,” the letter said.
Let’s take a close look at the type of activity these youths were involved in. This is a network with many connections, with support and instruction for all kinds of criminal activity, operating under a clear-cut extremist ideology.
In the document entitled “The Revolt,” seized by the Shin Bet, which contains the strategic plan of action for destroying the State of Israel and establishing the Kingdom of Israel in its place, Meir Ettinger wrote that the goal should be to stir up ferment among the Palestinians so as to bring down the government in Israel and sow political chaos.
Attacks on Arabs, and the response that follows, will lead to a series of violent incidents and a dynamic of escalation – one that the country will struggle to control and that will undermine stability. He argues that hurting Arabs is a “powder keg” of the utmost importance because of its potential to set things alight.
Incidents of the kind for which the youths were arrested are not motivated by vengeance or fleeting passion; they are part of a broad strategy to fulfill the vision of a Kingdom of Israel ruled by the laws of halakha, the expulsion of anyone who isn’t Jewish and the building of the Third Temple.
The connections between those operating in Ettinger’s circle confirms this, and it was the same in regard to the Duma attack. The findings from the Duma investigation made it apparent that the attack was the result of planning and preparation made under the influence of a specific and detailed ideology that was imparted by figures who belong to a certain circle. From what has been reported so far in this case, the picture appears to be very similar.
As reported, the same system of support and encouragement provided to the suspects can be seen in the advice and guidance given the suspects about how to conduct themselves in the Shin Bet interrogation. The booklet “Know Your Rights,” written by extremist activist Noam Federman, talks about what to do when questioned by the Shin Bet and police, and was published shortly before Federman’s arrest in 2002 on suspicion of involvement with the Bat Ayin underground.
This booklet, whose main points are presented to the activists suspected of Jewish terror offenses, covers the suspect’s rights – what to answer and what not to answer his interrogators, how to avoid an indictment, descriptions of ploys used by the Shin Bet to extract a confession, and even recommendations as to what kind of supplies to bring to prison.
The preparations should be made together with experienced veterans of interrogations, the document advises – as reported, this was done in the present case. The activists are also provided with other literature, such as one entitled Malkhut Zadon, which includes a description of how to torch mosques, churches and monasteries, and how to avoid detection by the Shin Bet.
The documents advises to set up a small cell rather than a wide network, to reduce the chances of exposure. Within the cell, the activists are required to maintain compartmentalization. For example, if two members carry out a certain action, there is no need for them to share this with the rest of the cell. “You just mustn’t tell about it. And of course, the other members mustn’t question this and try to find out more,” it says.
It should be emphasized that these activists do not see themselves as fixing and improving the state. While other far-right activists take the law into their own hands in order to change the state from the inside, believing that “the government is against them but the people are with them,” the Jewish terror activists knowingly operate with the intention of destroying the state.
In “The Revolt,” Ettinger writes that “the fundamental ideas of Zionism are built for the purpose of a state like all the nations and not for a Kingdom of Israel… It’s a lot cheaper and quicker to tear it down and rebuild than to fix it up.”
Ettinger’s view that Zionism is inherently rotten and that the state has no right to exist, guides his flock to view the State of Israel as the enemy of the Jews and to take action against it. It’s no coincidence that these same youths are accused of burning an Israeli flag and that another Israeli flag with a swastika and the words “Death to the Zionists” painted on it was found in their room.
Last Thursday, a top security official was quoted as saying that responsibility for the loss of deterrence versus the hilltop youth lies with the courts. Unlike in 2016, now the courts are releasing dangerous hilltop youths from detention and thereby harming deterrence, leading to an increase in the rate of nationalist crime.
The spike in the number of hate crimes in 2018 included more than 40 violent incidents against the security forces. In 2016, by comparison, there was an 80 percent decrease in nationalist crime. Thus it is clear that effective deterrence could prevent the next tragedy.
The Jewish terror phenomenon is not new, it has been around since the state was founded. But the increasingly extremist ideology among the activists has affected the type of activity in which they engage, leading it to become more violent, and had changed the nature of the threat posed by this group.
Besides deterrence on the part of the security forces and the courts, other measures are needed to stop the spread of this extremist ideology and to keep the number of its adherents from growing. This will require the design of an educational program for the hilltop youth, as well as extremist rabbis being made to face charges, without any plea bargains. The outcry raised by people who fear for the wellbeing of “the children,” as if these young men somehow just got caught up in a situation they didn’t understand, does not help matters.
The writer is a researcher in the field of security and works for the Economic Cooperation Foundation and Commanders for Israel’s Security.