Brandishing their typical black and yellow flags and Hebrew signs boasting “Kahane was Right” and “There is no co-existence with cancer,” hundreds of right-wing activists took to the streets of Jerusalem Thursday night in a growing phenomenon of public demonstrations led by the country’s leading fascist groups such as Lahava and La Familia. Despite negligible attempts by Israeli police to force the demonstrators from proceeding (the demonstration was not granted prior police approval), the Jewish crowds began marching at around 9 pm when police officers made it readily apparent that they had no intention of halting the mostly youth from making their away across the city
Guided and instigated by far-right ideologues such as Benzion Gopstein and Baruch Marzel, the crowds chanted their usual “Death to Arabs,” “A Jew has a soul, an Arab is a son of a whore,” and other similar malicious slogans.
The marauding Jews marched from the city’s main soccer stadium to the Old City before scores of Israeli riot police prevented them from crossing into the neighboring Palestinians neighborhoods. Upon being denied access to cross the Old City, scuffles and outright fighting erupted between Jewish protesters and riot police, which according to police spokeswoman Luba Samri, resulted in the arrest of four individuals, including three 16 year olds and Gopstein himself. Throughout the ensuing clashes, rocks and pebbles were thrown directly at the police officers, accompanied by the occasional chant of “Arab lovers” and “Israel is a police state.” From there, the demonstrators dispersed, with many of them raiding the nearby Mamilla shopping center that abuts Jaffa Gate, continuing their chants against Arabs and searching for Palestinians to intimidate and harass. Although the current author did not witness the disturbances in Mamilla, media reports confirm several instances of attacks committed by Jewish rioters, including the use of pepper spray against Arab pedestrians.
Speaking to several participants, the main theme of Thursday’s protest clearly revolved around the perception that the Israeli government, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, was not taking a firm enough hand against the recent stabbings witnessed across the country. One participant, who identified himself as Shai, exhorted that “We need to give the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) a free hand in entering Arab villages, arresting all Arabs suspected of harboring anti-Israel sentiments or supporting these attacks, and destroying the homes of terrorists immediately after any attack.” When questioned about how lone wolf attacks can be prevented using harsher military measures, he returned to the ethos that “We need to let the army do its job thoroughly” as well as claimed that “(Palestinian Prime Minster) Abbas is directly responsible for the spilling of Jewish blood.” A follow up comment that questioned whether political frustration and economic despair could be adequately countered with suppression elicited no response other than “The army will take care of the situation.”
Virulent right wing, racist Jewish groups are certainly not a new phenomenon in the Old City and central square of Jerusalem, but the recent events have nonetheless spawned a markedly more aggressive trend among extremist groups. For example, when an Israeli-Palestinian citizen noted for her peace advocacy and outreach efforts to Jewish citizens participated in a sit-in led by a leftist Israeli group to mourn the death of two Jewish settlers killed in the northern West Bank on October 1, the event soon spiraled out of hand when hundreds of right wing demonstrators noticed the presence of a women wearing a Hijab and proceeded to encircle her, chant unbelievably vulgar insults and threats against her and her family, and flick garbage and cigarette butts at the left-wing activists. As a witness to those events, I can attest to not only the sheer verbal violence directed at a woman whose sole purpose was to express solidarity with her Jewish peers and condemn the loss of life, but also the lackluster response of the nearby Israeli riot police to provide any sort of protection until it was abundantly clear that failing to intervene would result in physical violence (and as one quote from the above 972 article in Hebrew reveals, at least one police officer stated her embarrassment and shame with being forced to protect a group of peace activists). Such instances point to, among things, the hypocrisy of Jewish groups and individuals who claim that Palestinians routinely fail to condemn acts of violence against Israeli civilians, and more importantly, to the growing prevalence and even dominance of staunch racism throughout the Israeli public sphere.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli political establishment have grown increasingly accustomed to scapegoating Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas for attacks against Israelis, claiming that his “incitement” galvanizes Palestinians to perpetrate acts of violence against Israeli Jews. Notwithstanding Abba’s public statements to the contrary as well as assessments from the Israeli intelligence itself that the PNA leader has not been inciting the Palestinian street to violence, it has grown more and more common for Israelis to blame the aging leader for Palestinian anger. Missing in this sequence of events is the formative and ongoing incitement of Israeli settlers and radicals that dehumanizes Palestinians, encourages Jews to disregard Muslim sensitivities surrounding the Al Aqsa Mosque, and prompts calls for greater militarization and Jewish vigilantism.
Thursday night’s unsanctioned and unlicensed march of Israeli extremists and their willingness to resort to violence against their state’s security forces testify to the impact that incitement is having on Jewish youth throughout the country, and portends an ever-growing threat of entrenching the current spiral of bloodshed.