Members of a far-right party with an elected official in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, are trying to form a civilian militia in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, Haaretz has reported. Party members plan to expand the militia across Israel due to fears over what they describe as the growing threat from Palestinian citizens of Israel working in mainly Jewish neighbourhoods. Twenty per cent of all Israeli citizens are Palestinian Arabs.
The leader of Otzma Yehudit is Itamar Ben Gvir MK. He is notorious for his threats to Palestinians. Earlier this month he brandished a gun and threatened to shoot Palestinians in the occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Although described as a far-right extremist, Ben Gvir represents a prominent radical, extremist current within Zionism. His influence and that of the racist ideology of Kahanism, to which he subscribes, has been mainstreamed in Israeli society. This presents a major dilemma for pro-Israel groups in the US and the West in general. For decades, governments in Washington and European capitals have played down the inherent racism of Zionism to maintain their unquestioned support for the apartheid state.
Moran Nunu, who is leading the Bat Yam initiative, told Haaretz that the militia was being formed in response to the presence of Palestinian and Arab workers. “Illegal aliens are underfoot, we feel like this will end badly,” she said, making reference to Palestinian workers in the neighbourhood. “We always feel threatened. They come in clans. When I go to the boardwalk, I don’t feel safe.” Supporters of the initiative have described the increase presence of Palestinians as “a ticking bomb”.
Militia organisers are said to be coordinating with the founders of a similar initiative started in the Negev in March. Almog Cohen, who founded the Negev militia, is now on the Otzma Yehudit Knesset slate. He said that he is familiar with the effort underway in Bat Yam and welcomes it, but is not involved himself. “I hope that this will be throughout the country,” he is reported as saying. “The more, the better.”
The new militia will be divided into three companies. One will have members with the highest levels of the Israeli army’s rifleman course who will undergo counter-terror and advanced training. Another, a patrol company, will undergo weapons training and “be a presence and carry out general security.” A third, technical, company will “direct it all from above.”
Militias are being formed without the approval of the Israeli police. Bat Yam municipality and the police have clarified that they have not supported or participated in this process. Little is apparently being done to put a stop to it, though.