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The growing influence of Israel’s most hard line settlers

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman [File

With the assent of Israel’s hard-right new defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, the man he replaced warned of the direction Israeli political life is now taking. “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement,” Moshe Yaalon said gravely.

Of course Yaalon himself could rightly be considered an extremist himself. As I wrote in my recent column about Lieberman’s rise, Yaalon is a man who has slandered the Palestinians as an “existential threat” which like “cancer” requires “chemotherapy.” So he he is one to talk. The same goes for former Israeli Labour party leader Ehud Barak who recently said that Israel is now “infected by the shoots of fascism”.

While they are right that the Israeli political leadership is being taken over by ever-more dangerous extremists, the fact is that both of them, as former ministers in charge of running Israel’s wars, helped and encouraged Israel to reach this place.

A recent New York Times report from one of the more extremist Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is also essentially a promo for Shimon Dotan’s new film The Settlers. The film, which I have not yet seen, sounds like it provides some insight into the racism and religious fanaticism of Israel’s settlers. One of the young settler activists, the “Hilltop Youth” told the New York Times reporter “Israel’s government was illegitimate because it did not rule based on the laws of the Torah.”  They have “a desire to replace the modern state of Israel with a full-scale biblical kingdom that would extend as far as Iraq,” reports the paper.

Another one of the settler activists in his 20s indoctrinates Israeli children with anti-Palestinian racism, encouraging them to join him and other armed gangs of religious Zionist thugs in violent attack raids on Palestinian villages. “What will you do with me?” the settler asked “as if teaching a preschool class.” The reply from one child comes: “beat up Arabs”.

And yet the tone of the interview with liberal Israeli film maker Dotan suggests that he has very much missed the point. These armed, violent Israeli colonies built on stolen Palestinian land are not some odd outlier of Zionism. When these religious Zionists claim to be acting in the true spirit of “pioneering” Zionism, they have a very valid claim.

While Israel’s founders were mostly secular in their outlook, there was always a strand of religious fanaticism involved. “There is no God, but he gave us the land,” is how the anti-Zionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe often frames it.

And now, with Israel increasingly moving to the right, even the secular outlook is increasingly being dropped. The settlers and the religious Zionists are slowly working their way into power. Dan Cohen and Tamar Aviyah at Mondoweiss had on Tuesday a most illuminating account of how this is happening.

A central figure in this reckoning is Yehuda Glick. With the departure of Yaalon from Israel’s parliament Glick, as the next person down on the Likud party list, now enters the Knesset as a new Israeli lawmaker. Born in New York, Glick is an infamous instigator at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound (Islam’s third-most-holy site) and leader in the extremist “Third Temple” movement.

His long term goal is to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and replace it with a Jewish temple.

A settler who lives in the south Hebron hills (part of the occupied West Bank) Glick is the chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, and was once director the Temple Institute.

The latter organization is led by Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, an openly racist and genocidal religious Zionist. Last year, Ariel was caught on tape by journalist David Sheen advocating the murder of all Palestinian men that refused to convert from Islam and Christianity, threatening even that Israel should launch wars across the entire region: “We will conquer Iraq, Turkey. We will get to Iran, too. We will impose the seven Noahide laws on all of these places.”

While Lieberman is secular rather than religious, he is aggressively fascist, so no doubt these forces will find a lot of common ground when it comes to hating Palestinians. Furthermore, the religious Zionist settlers already have a strong voice in Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition government with the presence of Naftali Bennett’s “Jewish Home” party. As Cohen and Aviyah in Mondoweiss report, Bennett told Army Radio in June 2014 that Israel’s goal is “increased Israeli activity and presence” at the al-Aqsa mosque compound “in a gradual manner.”

In 2013 then housing minister Uri Ariel (a member of Jewish Home, now agriculture minister) said that al-Aqsa mosque compound should be destroyed and replaced with a Jewish temple: “We’ve built many little, little temples … but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.” Ariel himself is a settler: as is Lieberman.

Every election, every new government, and every cabinet reshuffle seems to bring more dangerous forces of religious fanaticism into the government. Dangerous times indeed.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.

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