Earlier this month, a strange thing happened: a Jewish extremist was held in “administrative detention” by Israel. This practise, internment without charge or trial, dates back to the British occupation of Palestine, and Israel habitually uses it against Palestinians.
But for a Jewish citizen to be “administratively detained” is highly unusual. The internee is Meir Ettinger, a 24-year-old pro-settler fanatic who is the grandson of the notorious Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Kahane was the founder of the Jewish Defence League, a terrorist organization founded in New York in 1969. The group was responsible for a string of bombing and other violent attacks against Palestinian, Egyptian and Soviet civilian targets in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as against JDL members who quarrelled with the leadership in one way or another.
Kahane later left for Israel to establish the Kach party, although he always maintained his influence over the JDL in the US (he wrote once that he considered the Kach to be the Israeli branch of the JDL). He was eventually elected to the Knesset, before his faction was ejected and recognised as a terrorist organization. Kahane advocated that all Palestinians should be removed by force from the “Land of Israel” – which in his vision included the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Kahane was imprisoned by the Israeli authorities, who saw his agitation against the state as a threat. Kahane Chai, the modern-day incarnation of Kach, has been designated an overseas terrorist organization by the US State Department in its latest annual report on such groups.
Today, according to reports in the Israeli press, it seems his grandson has become his ideological heir.
According to the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, Ettinger leads a small cell of fanatical ideologues called “The Revolt”. In their conception of a “Jewish state” they want to overthrow the state of Israel and replace it with an even more extreme religious entity – some sort of “Jewish kingdom”.
“The idea of ‘The Revolt’ is very simple,” Ettinger wrote in a 2013 manifesto, according to The New Yorker. “Israel has many weak spots: issues that are tiptoed around so as not to create riots. All we need to do is light up the explosives.”
In the wake of the hideous murders of Ali and Saad Dawabsha, an 18-month-old baby and his father near Nablus in July, Israel made a show of public lamentation before the world’s press. The lethal attacks came as the culmination of years of settler terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Deemed “price tag” attacks, these acts ranged from vandalism and graffiti to arson and murder. Settlers from Yitzhar, one of the most fanatic of the West Bank settlements, even once launched a home made rocket into a nearby Palestinian village.
Such “terrorists” would now be caught, Netanyahu insisted this month. The very public arrest and internment of Ettinger is part of this show of concern.
But Israel is acting disingenuously. Ettinger is a product of the extremist climate fostered and funded in Israel and the settlements by the state itself.
As Haaretzcolumnist Sefi Rachlevsky puts it: “The Shin Bet security service has a great deal of chutzpah. After years of indulging messianic Jewish terror, it places the theological revolution on the shoulders of one Meir Ettinger, as if ‘he doesn’t listen to the rabbis.’ Why it is convenient for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to write it off to uncontrollable ‘wild weeds’ is quite clear; it was convenient in the same way after the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.”
Rachlevsky points out that Neyanyahu himself has praised extremists, including the fanatic settler Rabbi Dov Lior, who uses his platform to openly call for ethnic cleansing. Last year he said that Israel “must strive to cleanse the entire country” of Palestinians. Lior called Baruch Goldstein (who shot to death 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron in 1994) “holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.”
And yet this is not some outlier that the state can pretend it has no links to. Lior is an important spiritual leader in the “Jewish Home” party of Naftali Bennet, the current education minister. Lior put forward the name of Uri Ariel towards the Jewish Home electoral list (Ariel, a settler himself, was housing minister in the last government and is agriculture minister in the current one).
Furthermore, several top advisers in the Jewish Home party were once members of the “Jewish Underground” which terrorised Palestinian civilians in the 1980s, including car bombings targetting the mayors of Nablus and Ramallah, who had to have legs amputated as a result, and only narrowly escaped with their lives.
While it is easy for the Israeli establishment to make a scapegoat of Ettinger, the fact is that he is very much their own son.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.