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Jerusalem Post: "Washington Watch: How home-grown hooliganism threatens Israeli democracy"

"Leaflets left at the scene (Professor Sternhell bombing) offered a NIS 1.1 million bounty for anyone killing a leader of Peace Now."

Oct. 15, 2008

Douglas Bloomfield , THE JERUSALEM POST

American Jewish leaders have been quick and correct to call upon moderate Muslim leaders in this country to forcefully condemn Islamic terrorism, particularly against Jews, and mobilize their followers to oppose all such violence.

But when it comes to Jewish violence and terrorism, they are strangely silent, even when the victims are Jews as well as Palestinians.

The Jewish-Arab violence in Acre was the lead story in the Israeli media for several days before it broke in the American media. The violence began on Yom Kippur when an Arab father drove with his son into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to pick up his daughter at her fianc‚'s apartment. Some young Jews felt it offended their religious sensitivities and began stoning the two men. Word spread to the Arab neighborhoods, where masked youths rampaged into the Jewish parts of the city. Soon it got out of hand and observers were calling it dueling pogroms.

The police had to evacuate some Arab families when their homes were torched by Jewish rioters. Houses, businesses and cars were vandalized, burned and looted on both sides.

This is not an isolated problem, say IDF and police officials, but part of a spreading problem of violence by haredim and radical settlers. It's not just in the West Bank but also in cities like Acre and Jerusalem.

But you wouldn't know about it unless you spent a lot of time on the Internet reading the Israeli media.

Last month, Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, a prominent peace activist and critic of the settler movement, was lightly wounded in a pipe bombing of his home. Leaflets left at the scene offered a NIS 1.1 million bounty for anyone killing a leader of Peace Now.

ONLY TWO major US Jewish organizations condemned the bombing - the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League - but they made no mention of the larger problem nor of at the scene leaflets calling for the murder of peace activists and declaring "the State of Israel has become our enemy" and its leaders are "a mob of wicked people, haters of the Torah who want to erase the laws of God."

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urging the government to crack down on the violence and honor its commitments to freeze settlements and dismantle illegal West Bank outposts.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, the community's leadership umbrella, has not only failed to condemn the Jewish terrorism and settler violence but it has failed even to acknowledge the problem in the Daily Alert, a news summary prepared for it by the right-leaning Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

"American Jews simply don't know about [the growing problem of Jewish terrorism]; they don't read about it in their Jewish media, not in the Daily Alert, not in the mainstream press which is preoccupied with the financial crisis and the election campaign, and they don't hear about it from the leading Jewish organizations," said Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now.

Prime Minister Olmert called a settler rampage in a West Bank village last month a "pogrom" carried out in response to the stabbing and wounding of a Jewish child at Yitzhar by an intruder.

ELSEWHERE, HAREDI zealots have formed "modesty patrols" that are likely something straight out of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Their goal is to stamp out what one called "breaches of purity and modesty" by fellow Jews. Shops have been looted, people harassed and stoned, and in one instance vigilantes reportedly broke into a woman's apartment and beat her for what it considered unacceptable behavior.

Many haredi religious leaders reportedly approve of such behavior and even encourage it as defending the faith against secular encroachment.

The Jerusalem Post reports growing concern in Israeli security establishment of "an acute rise in violence between settlers and Palestinians." Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni told the BBC that there may be only a few hundred hard-core activists in the radical settler movement, but their numbers are growing and little is being done by the mainstream settler movement to stop them. He called it "a very grave phenomenon" and said the vigilantes have the backing of some rabbis and other leaders.

THEIR QUEST to thwart any peace settlement and hold on to the West Bank was behind the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and 13 years later the problem has only gotten worse. My own visits to Jewish communities around the US reveal a blithe ignorance of the situation.

The growing violence by haredi zealots and vigilante setters against fellow Jews as well as Arabs threatens to explode in Israel but gets scant attention here. Yet it could be a greater threat to Israeli democracy than the Islamist zealots.

Olmert has warned that this "evil wind of extremism, of hatred, of malice... threatens Israeli democracy." And it is being ignored by the American Jewish establishment.