Channels
Photo: Dalit Shacham
Rabbi Arik Ascherman. A devout Jew, but an even greater devout Zionist
Photo: Dalit Shacham
Yizhar Hess
The disgrace of Jewish extremism
Op-ed: We all know we must fight Islamic fundamentalism, but when it comes to fundamentalism in our own home, which is threatening our life as a Jewish-democratic state and endangering Zionism - we hesitate.
Two figures wrestle on the side of a rocky mountain. One seems in his 20s. He is fast and frantic, running amok. The other has a skullcap and a beard. His movements are slightly clumsy. He is 56 years old, after all.

  

 

The young one is masked. A black knitted hat covers his head and neck. In his right hand he holds a drawn knife, in his left hand a stone. He forcefully kicks the man with the beard and the skullcap in the ribs. One kick, and another, and another. He grabs him. The older man manages to get away. He doesn’t run for his life. He grasps the skullcap which fell from his head and then tries to push the attacker away.

 

 

The masked man raises the knife again. He is about to stab. Suddenly he stops. Perhaps he changes his mind. He forcefully throws the stone on the man with the beard, and runs up the hill. He doesn’t escape. He runs like a person who knows no one will chase him, and disappears.

  The man with the beard and the skullcap is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who heads Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization which unites Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis dealing with a variety of issues - from the war on poverty in Israel (their work around the Alaluf Committee to Fight Poverty has received a lot of praise) to Palestinian farmers' right to pick their olives.

 

Rabbi Ascherman with Palestinian farmers. He devotes his life to defending Palestinian rights, but he also has a lot of good things to say about the IDF (Photo: Dalit Shacham)
Rabbi Ascherman with Palestinian farmers. He devotes his life to defending Palestinian rights, but he also has a lot of good things to say about the IDF (Photo: Dalit Shacham)

 

Rabbi Ascherman is not the kind of organization head who will be seen in luxurious cocktail parties and fundraisers overseas. He works on the ground. He knows Samaria, as well as Beit Shean (where the organization runs a public housing project), like the palm of his hand. He is a devout Jew, and an even greater devout Zionist. And he doesn’t have a hint of hatred in him.

 

The attempted murder he experienced hasn't changed him. "Perhaps the attacker repented at the last moment," he says, trying to speak positively of the man who almost killed him. "After all, the weekly Torah portion says, 'Don't lay your hand on the boy.'"

 

Don’t get Rabbi Ascherman wrong. He is not naïve, but he loves his fellow man. He devotes his life to defending Palestinian rights in a territory which he feels is being held unlawfully, but he also has a lot of good things to say about the IDF. He knows there are commanders who completely understand how important, right, moral and Jewish it is to allow a farmer to work his land. Ascherman is a stubborn fighter for human rights, but his flag is blue and white.

 

One watches the video documenting the attack and is filled with shame. Twenty years have passed since the Rabin murder, and nothing has changed. This Jewish terrorist is driven by religious-messianic motivation. He is likely relying on the same "Din Rodef" (a Jewish law permitting extrajudicial killings) that guided Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, Yigal Amir. Ascherman's fate was different. He didn't lose his life, this time.

 

Where will we carry this shame? For the fact that had it been a Palestinian terrorist, he would have rightfully been neutralized the moment he pulled out the knife? For the fact that this video has yet to lead to the man's arrest, although there are many ways to identify him despite his masked face? Or perhaps for the fact that on the exact same week, an Israeli Knesset member saw it fit to accuse a Supreme Court judge of "placing himself on the enemy's side"?

 

We must say it loud and clear: Jewish fundamentalism is no better and no worse than any other kind of religious fundamentalism.
The only difference is that it is clear to all of us that we must fight Islamic fundamentalism. But when it comes to the fundamentalism in our own home, the fundamentalism which is active within us, which is threatening our life as a Jewish-democratic state and endangering Zionism as a historic enterprise, we hesitate even after 20 years.

 

Yizhar Hess is the executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel.

 


First published: 10.27.15, 21:24
 new comment
See all talkbacks "The disgrace of Jewish extremism "
Warning:
This will delete your current comment