"You lost my support," one wrote. "I wonder if you'll apologize in the end, when none of the suspects is convinced"; "I chose you, but you chose the Shin Bet, which is torturing minors"; "You lost my support: You support the torturing of Jewish children"; "You lost my vote too. I believe what Itamar Ben-Gvir is saying"; "How is it that it's so easy to confuse you?"; "You put your faith in Bibi and in the corrupt system."
While we're talking, another hostile text comes it, and another one. "Your brothers' blood is crying out from the Shin Bet's basements," it says. "You're disconnected from reality, condescending."
"He's a genius," Bennett says with a sigh. "Itamar Ben-Gvir has led a brilliant campaign."
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Kahanist-turned-lawyer, is the face of the propaganda campaign that describes the interrogation of the Duma arson suspects as a long and arduous physical and mental torture. The suspects' bodies were stretched and shrunk on a Procrustean bed; they were electrocuted; they were sexually harassed, suffered kicking to the chest, bruising, slapping; a female interrogator groped them. The claims are not surprising: Ben-Gvir and his colleagues are not the first lawyers to lie for their clients. That's what you do when you want to obstruct an investigation. What was surprising is that many in the religious-Zionist sector, too many, believed them.
"The Duma Tortured," is how Aviad Visoli, another in the army of lawyers, calls his clients. These words elevate the suspects to another level - one of martyrs. The Duma Tortured, like the Ten Martyrs, like the holy victims of the Holocaust, like Olei Hagardom (Irgun and Lehi members who were sentenced to death by hanging by the British - ed). In several years, there will be streets in Israel called "The Duma Tortured," and their residents won't know who the "Duma Tortured" were - the members of the Dawabsheh family who were burned alive in their beds, or the Jews who murdered them.
The battle waged around the interrogation of the members of the Jewish terror organization divides the religious-Zionist sector. One side supports the state and its institutions, while the other side rejects the state and its authority. This conflict has far-reaching ideological and political consequences. Bennett, to his credit, did not sit on the fence. He took a side, and stuck to his guns, with courage and the complete willingness to pay a political price; Uri Ariel and Bezalel Smotrich, those of the Chardal (both ultra-orthodox and Zionist Jew - ed.) part of Bayit Yehudi, went the other way. They lent their voices to Ben-Gvir's propaganda campaign.
"We have to close the Shin Bet's Jewish Division," Uri Ariel wrote of the Duma murder investigation. Smotrich was quick to join in.
The settlers who went out to protest against the investigation across the country - among other places in front of Bennett's home in Ra'anana and in front of the home of Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen - agree with them. Those who also agree with them are the youth who danced as if possessed, with guns and rifles in hand, around the photo of the baby who was burned alive, dancing and stabbing, at a wedding in Jerusalem.
Ariel and Smotrich's behavior is reminiscent of that of the ultra-Orthodox politicians: Refusal to accept the state's authority, while at the same time demanding to receive state funds. Down with the Jewish Division, long live the Settlement Division. For the Haredim, this dual move comes naturally. For the religious-Zionist sector, it used to be seen as Chillul Hashem (desecration of the name of God - ed).
Bennett talks about it candidly. "I wasn't surprised by the incident in Duma, but by the reactions coming from Judea and Samaria over the past week," he told me. "I really believe in this public: I am a part of it. I believe the majority of our public does not feel solidarity with the suspects. Not yet. I look at my synagogue in Ra'anana. Among the worshipers are brigade commanders in reserves, pilots, businessmen. They haven't lost faith in the system.
"But Ben-Gvir's campaign is touching a very sensitive nerve. There's a feeling of victimhood. The state is against us. They keep bringing up the Avishai Raviv affair (a Shin Bet agent that some rightists say was tasked with encouraging and fabricating activities of right-wing extremists - ed), which really was a mistake by the Shin Bet.
"We're not there anymore, I tell our people. Now the situation is different, now we are the government. We no longer have the luxury of complaining about the forces of darkness. This might be the first time I'm launching a campaign meant to convince my public to change its positions. So far, I've done things like that quietly."
What caused you to come out against your voters?
"The last straw that broke the camel's back was the wave of text messages I received," he said. "'Why are you silent when kids are being tortured,' the text messages asked. What happened this time is different to anything I've ever seen. I thought that (support for the murder) must not be allowed to become the consensus of the religious-Zionism."
Can you stay with these people? They're not just those living on the hilltops - they're part of your party.
"For the first time I recognize the full force of the difference," he said. He reiterated Rabbi Kook's teachings, which viewed the State of Israel as the first step in the Jew people's redemption. "The suspects' explicit goal was to undermine the state, to commit terror acts that would cause the entire world to come down on us. It's more far-reaching than the Jewish underground in the 80s, which wanted to influence the state, not destroy it. It's the opposite of our Zionism."
'Shin Bet methods are justified'
On Wednesday morning, he spoke at a conference of headmasters and teachers in the religious education system organized by B'Sheva, a weekly magazine that takes its marching orders from the Chardal rabbis. The audience received him with hostile silence. "What happened to us?" Bennett asked. "We believe Itamar Ben-Gvir more than we do Ayelet Shaked? More than state institutions?"
Bennett knew the answer: Most of them believe Ben-Gvir. "The religious-Zionism," he told them, "is Roi Klein and Emmanuel Moreno (heroic IDF soldiers who fell in battle during the Second Lebanon War - ed.), not a group of anarchists who want to destroy the state. We need stop acting like victims."
He reminded them of another terror attack, the night before, at the Palestinian village of Beitillu near Ramallah. "Those who throw a smoke grenade into a home people live in want to murder a family," he said. "Why are you feigning innocence?
"Yes, the interrogation is unpleasant. It includes methods not used against Jewish suspects in the past. And I ask you, is it (justified) to deprive a suspect of sleep and of meeting with his lawyer, in order to prevent an incident like Duma from happening again? I say yes, it is. Those who support the use of exceptional methods against Palestinian terrorism, should support the use of exceptional methods against Jewish terrorism. These are terrorists, and the government made a decision to treat them as such. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians in order to advance a political agenda, and that is the exact definition of what they are doing. They're burning people to destroy the state."
Bennett's speech ended as it began, with silence. Bennett felt some of the people were convinced.
What the speech couldn't do, the video from the wedding did. The settler leaders realized that what's growing on the hills near their homes is a local ISIS branch - youth, second and third generation of settlers, who are actually skinheads under their yarmulkes.
The head of the Yesha Council, Avi Roeh, accused the Shin Bet of persecution last week. After Defense Minister Ya'alon showed him and his friends the video from the wedding, he changed his mind. Bnei Akiva (religious-Zionist youth group - ed.) followed in his footsteps. Even Smotrich, hearing the harsh criticism Tzipi Livni leveled at him and his friends at the Knesset following the release of the video, mumbled some words of reservation.
A prosecutor's statement is supposed to be released in the middle of next week detailing the crimes the members of the Jewish terror organization are accused of, primarily the Duma murder. Indictments will be filed against four or five of the suspects.
These are youth who come from the very heart of the settlement movement, the byproduct of its education system. They are few, but by no means a handful: They are surrounded by a supporting environment including rabbis, friends, family, and others like them. The settlement movement's self criticism will receive a name and a face. This is a sector based on its beliefs and ideology, which claims to still possess the moral values that have eroded in other sectors. We're the new elite, say the spokespeople of this sector; we're the spearhead, the flag bearers, the chosen ones.
Noblesse oblige, we should tell them. Their aristocracy - or, to be precise, the pretension of being aristocrats - holds them accountable. It is time for you to clean house.