What if they'd been shouting, "Death to the Jews!"?

What if they'd been shouting, "Death to the Jews!"?
Comment: In the wake of Jerusalem's anti-Arab violence, Dominique Vidal questions how the world would react if the shoe were on the other foot.
6 min read
04 May, 2021
Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City. [Getty]
“Death to the Arabs! Jerusalem belongs to us!” These cries sounded for several nights during Ramadan, from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s old town to the Palestinian district of Sheikh Jarrah. Recruited via messages on WhatsApp that said, “Smash their faces and bury them alive!” and urged the bringing of arms, hundreds of young people gathered to vent their racism. They told their victims, “You look Arab,” or “You sound Arab,” before attacking them with punches, kicks, stones, and bottles. Peaceful Jews who went to the rescue were asked, “Are you left-wing?” Anyone who gave an affirmative response was also attacked, as were journalists.

Naturally, the police intervened, with tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons, and rubber bullets, but these were aimed predominantly at people being attacked who dared to put up a fight. One post declared, “Arabs on fire today, the Molotov cocktails are already in the boot […] I think an Arab’s going to die today.” Miraculously, no one was in fact killed, but hundreds were injured.

This was not an isolated incident fomented by anonymous thugs. Everyone in the desecrated holy city is aware of the source of the Israeli pogrom to “restore Jewish dignity:” four organisations who form part of the group of political parties on which the Israeli prime minister depends in order to hold on to power.

The ultra-orthodox are the reserve army of a growing neo-Nazi movement

Gideon Levy, a well-known journalist for the daily newspaper Haaretz, has pointed to “the phalanx of Lehave, the militias of La Familia and the thugs [colonisers] of the hilltops.” Alongside them, he adds, are “new brutes more terrifying than all the others:” the ultra-orthodox. Of these people he says, “Thanks to their significant electoral power, the rioters in the shtreimel [Hasidic fur hat] could propel Israel towards a fascism the like of which it has never seen. The ultra-orthodox are the reserve army of a growing neo-Nazi movement.”

This upsurge of raw, racist violence was not just a provocation to coincide with an important Islamic festival. It occurred on the eve of the elections organised by the alliance created by Benyamin Netanyahou, which combines the ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi parties United Torah Judaism and Sephardic Shas with the new Religious Zionist Party, an ultranationalist, annexationist and relocationist force. The Religious Zionist Party brings together Noam de Bezalel Smotrich, a group that is also homophobic, and Jewish Force, headed by Itamar Ben Gvir, the successor to Meir Kahane’s Kach party. The Knesset banned the Kach party for “racism” in 1994, following the massacre by its member Baruch Goldstein of 29 Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

For the first time since this ban, these “Judeo-Nazis,” as Yeshayahou Leibowitz has called them, are back in the Knesset, thanks to the surplus vote agreement made with them by the leader of Likud. The “religious Zionists” have thus gone from having 0.42% of the vote share and no representatives in March 2020 to having 5.11% and 6 representatives one year later.

To understand the arrogance of the Jerusalem hooligans, there is no need to look any further than recent declarations made by the two leaders of the extreme right, clear incitements to violence.

Asked in a radio interview about the declaration by the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, that “the soil [of Israel] vomits Arabs,” Palestinian Knesset representative Ahmad Tibi replied: “It’s racist filth. He’s not to be trusted. A rabbi should not speak in that way. If a sheikh spoke in that way about Jews, he would also be rightly condemned.” In the Knesset on 7 April, Bezalel Smotrich defended the rabbi, telling Tibi, “A real Muslim should know that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and that in time, Arabs like you who refuse to recognise that will no longer be here. The rabbi Shmuel and his many disciples, which include us, will make sure of that.” A few days ago, the leader of the Religious Zionist Party went further, writing that, “Arabs are Israeli citizens, for the moment at least.”

Asked in a radio interview about the declaration by the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, that 'the soil [of Israel] vomits Arabs'

In February, Itamar Ben Gvir called the spiritual guide of his party, Meir Kahane, a “saint” and a “hero.” Kahane did not insist, he pointed out, on the expulsion of all Israeli Arabs, only “those disloyal to the state.” Nine days after the ballot, Ben Gvir came out with guns blazing, asserting that “security must be re-established” in the predominantly Arab regions in the north and south of the country, where he claimed that “total anarchy” reigned: “It’s the Wild West out there. Someone needs to deal with it, and that person is going to be me.” The day after the legislative elections, on 24 March, the website of the Jewish Defence League celebrated “Our brother Ben Gvir elected to the Knesset.”

I have worked for more than half a century as a journalist and historian investigating the Israel-Palestine conflict. I have been to the region almost every year. I have tried to analyse Israel’s wars, the massacres that punctuated them, the expulsions of Palestinians, the occupation and colonisation of their land, crime upon crime. For almost a century, the violence has continued to escalate, and the Palestinians have been and continue to be the principal victims. However, I have never experienced mass aggression lasting for nearly a week in the streets of Jerusalem.

A piece in Le Monde by the sadly departed Zeev Sternhell, entitled “Israel is seeing the rise of a racism that resembles the beginnings of Nazism,” now feels painfully prescient. Netanyahou is poised to trigger a confrontation with Iran aimed at preventing an accord between Tehran and Washington that might threaten his power base. It seems apparent to many that he wishes for a third intifada in order to impose the national emergency government he has so far not managed to put in place.

How Israel manipulates the struggle against anti-Semitism
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On my blog for Mediapart, I recently posed the following questions to my fellow journalists: “Why do the major media outlets you work for – some rare and remarkable exceptions aside – fail to cover, or barely cover, these events that are so serious in terms of human rights and of the threat they represent to the entire Middle East? Does being Israeli mean your crimes can go unpunished and be ‘forgotten’ by the media?”

To conclude this article, allow me to add these further questions: “In your opinion, if the fascist thugs of Jerusalem had been shouting, ‘Death to the Jews! Jerusalem belongs to us!’, would the editors of your publications have given you the same instructions? And would you have reacted in the same way?”

It is not just the media: statements from the French ministry for Foreign Affairs condemn rocket strikes by Hamas, but not the fascist thugs of Jerusalem or their mentors: they proportion equal blame to the aggressors and to their targets. De Gaulle would be turning in his grave.

I am ashamed. As a Frenchman, as a journalist, and as a Jew.

Dominique Vidal, journalist and historian, is the co-editor, with Bertrand Badie, of the collection The State of the World, published by La Découverte. The most recent instalment is The Middle East and the World.

This article is translated and cross-posted here with permission from its original publisher, CAREP, Paris.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.