Israel’s extremists aren’t as fringe as you think

If a video of religious youth stabbing a photo of a murdered Palestinian infant isn’t enough to convince mainstream Israel that there is a problem, what will?

Celebrants at a Jerusalem wedding for a couple from Israel’s radical right were filmed dancing and singing as they brandished a photo of Ali Dawabsheh, the 18 month-old Palestinian baby who was killed in a July arson attack on his family home in the West Bank village of Duma.

In the video, which was recorded on a cell phone, a dancing wedding guest impales a photo of the baby on a knife. His face is covered. Other dancers wave army-issued combat weapons, while one youth hoists a bottle with a roll of paper stuffed in its neck to mimic a molotov cocktail, indicating the method by which the Dawabsheh home was set alight.

The Duma attack killed baby Ali at the scene, while his parents died of their wounds in the hospital a few weeks later. Only his four-year-old brother survived, albeit with severe burns. The story was widely covered by the Israeli media and was condemned by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.

Hebrew graffiti on the walls of Duma dwellings indicated that the arson was a “price tag,” a term used by “hilltop youth” to describe their attacks on Palestinian villagers. Some of the notorious recent price tag incidents include an arson attack on a bilingual Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem and death threats graffitied on the homes of leftist intellectuals. There are dozens of amateur videos on YouTube that show these masked Hilltop Youth assaulting unarmed Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, burning their olive trees and destroying their property. Everyone knows who they are and what they do.

But while Kahanists are well known to security forces and the Shin Bet, months passed before any arrests were made. There are now several suspects in custody. According to a report published by the Jewish Daily Forward, a liberal Jewish newspaper in New York, relatives and attorneys of the detainees say they have been subjected to torture while under interrogation and that they are being held without charge under administrative detention.

The Forward reporter, Josh Nathan-Kazis, notes that the Shin Bet commonly uses torture and administrative detention on Palestinians, while it is very uncommon to hear of these interrogation methods used on Jewish detainees. But the Shin Bet apparently sees these particular Jews as fair game, since they are “anti-Zionists” who want to “violently overthrow the Israeli government.”

Official condemnations of the video came quickly. Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Chief Rabbi David Lau all conveyed their shock and horror to the news media, or via their Facebook statuses.

Even the parents of the groom insisted, in an interview broadcast by Channel 2, that they didn’t know who these masked guests were and they’d never heard the song that accompanied their dance with knives. This, despite the fact that that particular song is heard at every religious national wedding. It is as standard as “Hava Nagilah” at a Jewish wedding in the United States.

You’d think, based on these vociferous condemnations, that no one had ever seen Kahanists enthusiastically and publicly espousing violent racism. Celebrating the murder of a baby is an obvious indicator of pathological hatred, yet these people and their acts of hatred have been well covered by the media. Two years ago, at another wedding, we see an almost identical scene — masked hilltop youth dancing with knives and singing a Hebrew version of the Horst Wessel Lied.

On that occasion, Hebron settler leader Bentzi Gopstein was marrying off his daughter and Channel 2’s Ohad Hemo was there to report. No one tries to hide their views. When Hemo asks Gopstein whether there are any Palestinian wait staff at the wedding hall, Gopstein answers smugly that he checked to make sure there were no Arabs there. At 1:39 he says, “If there were Palestinians here they would not be serving food. They would be in the hospital.”

When incidents of radical settler violence are broadcast by the television news, one invariably hears predictable condemnations from every direction. The news presenter who introduces the story about the racist wedding celebrants for Channel 10 calls their actions “pure hatred” and “Jewish terror.” Look at her face at 1:21, after the wedding video is shown. She can’t hide her horror and revulsion.

But the official condemnations are disingenuous at best. De facto, the settler ideologues are deeply embedded in the Israeli security and political establishments.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is from the right-wing nationalist Jewish Home party, allegedly met with the mother of one of the American detained suspects in the Duma arson attack to discuss her son’s claims that he had been tortured by the Shin Bet. The idea of Palestinian parents of detainees having access to an Israeli government minister is inconceivable. Even when the media and the security establishment calls them “terrorists,” the hilltop youth are treated better than Palestinians. Because they are Jews.

So while the political and security establishments pay lip service to condemnations, their actions indicate what they really believe: that Jews who commit the radically violent, inconceivably hateful act of deliberately murdering a baby and his parents while they sleep — and then celebrate the act at a wedding — are not quite as evil as the Palestinians who murdered a sleeping Jewish family while they slept at their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

The message is that the Palestinian murderers of Jewish children are representative, while the Jewish-Israeli murderers are sick, marginal outliers who are rejected by “mainstream” Israel.

This is an ideé fixe one hears pretty much all the time in Israel, including from mainstream liberals. Yes, they say, we have some horrible rotten apples among us, but when they commit acts of wanton violence against Palestinians — like the Dawabsheh murders or the 2014 abduction and immolation of Mohammed Abu Khdeir — we condemn it and feel really, really bad about it. But when Palestinians murder Jews, goes the relentlessly repeated received wisdom, people celebrate on the streets of Ramallah and hand out sweets to children.

Don’t bother trying to tell them they’re wrong, that Palestinian society is just as complex as Jewish Israeli society. It won’t help to remind them that Jews sat on a hilltop overlooking Gaza and cheered as they watched the Israeli army bombard the coastal territory in 2009, 2012 and 2014, killing hundreds of children along with adult non combatants. They’ll flap a hand at you and tell you “that’s different.”

You’d have an easier time trying to convince a Trump supporter that President Obama should hand out Green Cards to all the undocumented Mexicans living in the United States.

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