Josh Kaplan

If we want to retain credibility on Israel, we need to be brave enough to condemn settler violence

We must raise up the voices in Israel that promote moderation over division, who see a future - and not just nihilism and hate


A burnt car following a reported settler attack in Burqah near Nablus on 16 May 1(Photo by ZAIN JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

May 17, 2024 12:01

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a Palestinian from Gaza who despite losing many of his family members in Israeli airstrikes, is known for his activism against Hamas. As I read his story, I thought about how brave it was to go against the grain and take a stand against the barbaric group destroying his people’s future.

Hamas, in their extremism and vile acts, have doomed millions of Palestinians to misery, death and destruction. Their addiction to terror and visceral hatred of Israel is the reason why Gaza has festered since Israeli withdrawal and why it is being destroyed now. Every missile that flies over the fence into Israel has cost money that could have improved Palestinians’ lives, but is being used instead to invoke fear and destroy lives. None of this should be particularly controversial, but Hamas rules Gaza with Stasi-esque tactics crushing dissent, so speaking up is an act that takes real courage.

It is easy in these tribal times to throw rocks across the clearly defined battle lines - to push back against terminally online activists and their bad tweets, to call out media bias when misguided journalists rush to judgement, to rise up when naive sports broadcasters act like geopolitical experts. These are all acts that can be necessary. But they’re not brave. To confront the excesses of your own side - that takes balls.

Since October (and indeed long before) there has been a vicious strain of Israeli settler that has operated outside the law. Radicalised by a version of Judaism that few of us would recognise, and while the world’s eyes are focused elsewhere, extremists are doing all they can to undermine the future of Israel.

When settlers force Palestinians from their homes in the Judean hills, when they rampage in Huwara, when they beat up truck drivers accused of taking aid to Gaza - they are working against the interests of millions of Jews who just want to live in peace. They don’t care about the things that many of us love about Israel, its secular spirit, its vibrant cities. They take and they push and they inflame because in their arrogance they only see a world they can exploit for their own ends.

30 years ago when Baruch Goldstein, a radicalised settler from Brooklyn, killed 29 worshippers in a Hebron mosque, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s condemnation was unequivocal. Speaking to Goldstein’s followers he said: “You are not part of the community of Israel ... You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house, and many of the people despise you. You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. You are an errant weed. Sensible Judaism spits you out. You placed yourself outside the wall of Jewish law ... We say to this horrible man and those like him: you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism."

For this, he was killed.

Now, decades later, where are those who supported Goldstein? Two of them, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are in the government. Under Ben-Gvir, settlers have become emboldened. With the tacit permission of the state, they destroy homes and businesses, they expand towns not just illegal under international law, but under Israel’s, too. While their actions are not the same as Hamas’s, not even in the same universe, it’s naive to pretend that they don’t matter.

If we can’t look at what happens in the West Bank and condemn it, we risk losing any credibility when we speak about the conflict as a whole. For those of us that truly desire peace, that care about Israel and its people, the violence must be called out. We must not be afraid to say something is wrong, just because the people doing it share our heritage. In the same way that we ask those who hate Israel to hold more than one thought in their heads, we should be capable of doing the same.

Letting what happened on October 7 destroy our humanity, justifying cruelty because we’ve experienced cruelty, is the easy route. Turning a blind eye is much less stressful than raising your voice. It shames our community when we don’t have enough strength in our convictions to do anything about it.

As those of us in the diaspora are only too aware, our real power on Israel is limited. If the country that so many of us love becomes just another Middle Eastern theocracy, this time with kippahs, then there is very little we can do about it. I know that those engaging in violence don’t care what anyone thinks and that they’re blinded by their convictions. The only thing that we can do is support the voices in Israel that promote moderation over division, and who see a future - and not just nihilism and hate.

May 17, 2024 12:01

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive