Jewish extremist head arrested after West Bank arson attack

Jewish extremist head arrested after West Bank arson attack
Israel's Shin Bet security agency is interrogating the suspected head of a Jewish extremist group after the arson attack last week that killed a Palestinian toddler in the West Bank.
3 min read
03 August, 2015
Protests erupted following the news of the toddler's death [AFP]

A Jewish extremist group's leader was arrested Monday, Israel's security agency said, as the country attempts to crackdown on Jewish extremism following the death of an 18-month-old baby in an arson attack in the West Bank.

The domestic intelligence service named him as Meir Ettinger, a grandson of Meir Kahane, a rabbi who founded the racist anti-Arab movement Kach and was assassinated in 1990 in New York.

He was arrested in Safed in northern Israel "because of his activities in a Jewish extremist organisation", a Shin Bet spokesman told AFP.

The Shin Bet would not say if 23-year-old Meir Ettinger is suspected of involvement in the arson attack Friday. But it says Ettinger is head of an extremist group seeking to bring about religious redemption through attacks on Christian religious sites and Palestinian homes.

According to Israeli media, he was the brains behind a June 18 arson attack on a shrine in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes.

Ettinger was sue to appear in court on Tuesday for a custody hearing, police said.

Media reports said Ettinger could face a year of "administrative detention" under the government's harder line against Jewish terrorists.

Israel normally applies the measure, which dates back to British-mandated Palestine, against Palestinians, allowing renewable six-month periods of detention without trial.

But it can now be used with Jewish detainees in cases of insufficient evidence to go to trial or if the suspect refuses to testify.

On his blog, Ettinger has in past days denied the existence of an underground Jewish organisation, but has defended attacks on "crimes" such as the existence of churches and mosques branded as "places of pagan worship".

The Shin Bet spokesman said Ettinger was barred from entering the West Bank or Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem fin January or a year "because of his activities".

The Palestinians on Monday submitted a request to the International Criminal Court to probe the firebombing and settler terrorism, their foreign ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah said.

Jewish terrorism

On a parallel track, police have opened an investigation into online threats against President Reuven Rivlin following his condemnation of Jewish terrorism after the West Bank firebombing, a presidential spokesman said Monday.

Rivlin had written a Facebook post following the arson attack by suspected Jewish extremists on a Palestinian family's home in the West Bank village of Duma.

The attack killed 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha and critically injured his parents and four-year-old brother.

"More than shame, I feel pain," Rivlin wrote in both Arabic and Hebrew.

"The pain over the murder of a little baby. The pain over my people choosing the path of terrorism and losing their humanity.

"Their path is not the path of the State of Israel and is not the path of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, it seems that so far we've dealt with the phenomenon of Jewish terrorism limply," he wrote, calling for concrete measures against extremists.

Rivlin's post prompted a wave of more than 2,000 comments, some positive but others attacking him and recalling Israelis killed by Palestinians.

"Dirty traitor. Your end will be worse than (Ariel) Sharon's," said one comment quoted by Maariv newspaper, referring to the late Israeli former premier who spent eight years in a coma.

Another said: "In Russia you would have been found by this point cut up inside a shoe box."

Police said they had received material from the president's security team and had ordered an investigation to "examine offensive publications against the president on social media".

The state prosecutor launched a separate probe into two YouTube videos showing Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Nazi uniforms and speaking in German.

In 1995, then premier Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist after a campaign of rightwing incitement against a peace deal with the Palestinians.