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Soldier’s Rampage Leads to Soul-Searching In Israel About Growth of Religious Extremism

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 1997

Early in January, Noam Friedman, an Israeli soldier on the West Bank, opened fire on a crowded Arab marketplace in the disputed city of Hebron. Six people were wounded in the attack.  

Newsweek (Jan. 13, 1997) reports that, "Like a growing number of Israel’s toughest combat troops, Friedman wears the trademark skullcap of Israel’s so-called national-religious Jews. Most of these Israelis cite religious reasons for their bitter opposition to abandoning any West Bank territory . . . What once seemed unthinkable — terror attacks by Jews aimed at Israeli policy — now seems to fit a pattern. In 1994, a Brooklyn-born settler murdered 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs to sabotage the first accords . . . The next year, yeshiva student Yigal Amir assassinated Rabin in an effort to end ongoing negotiations . . . It worked; Rabin’s Labor Party lost the subsequent election. Palestinians have long accused Israeli troops of winking at misdeeds by Jewish settlers. But Israelis were shocked that a soldier had been directly involved in terror — especially after Friedman rationalized his massacre attempt by citing religious ideology."  

While Friedman’s mental condition may have stimulated his violent act, Jerusalem Post (Jan. 18, 1997) columnist Moshe Kohn writes: "On the other hand, it is quite clear what moves some of our government leaders and bureaucrats (some of them wearing the garb and appurtenances commonly identified with Torah) to violate basic Torah tenets regarding human relations. I have in mind their harassment of innocent, law-abiding ‘strangers in our midst’ — i.e., non-Jewish residents and visitors, and specifically to our (since we’re a democracy, our officials are us) less-than-noble treatment of non-Israeli professional and volunteer personnel of Christian organizations and institutions conducting various charitable activities among all sectors of our society, some of them also performing vital pro-Israel education and propaganda tasks among their tens of millions of constituents, supporters and contacts around the world. Yet when these personnel have to renew their visas, or when one of these institutions seeks a visa for a new volunteer, the Interior Ministry often treats them virtually as subversive elements — and who knows but that this treatment does alienate some of them."  

Mr. Kohn decries "a morbid attitude to non-Jews ranging from fear through suspicion to antipathy" and cites the language of the Torah which "commands us to ‘love they neighbor as thyself’ (Leviticus 19:18), it commands us, ‘. . . love the stranger as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:19, 33-37, Deuteronomy 10:19)." He concludes: "It would need a psychopathologist to explain why so many people raised on those teachings flout them while being tremblingly scrupulous about distances between meat and milk . . ."  

Writing in The New York Times (Jan. 3, 1997), columnist Anthony Lewis states that, ". . . the shooting in Hebron showed again what many in Israel’s secular majority now consider the greatest menace to their society. That is the apparent fact that some ultra-Orthodox Israelis do not accept the authority of the democratic state, believing instead that they can enforce what they view as divine command. Israel has lost a Prime Minister to fanatics. . . . The principle of deciding territorial claims on the basis of ancient religious texts is a recipe for insecurity. The planting of 400 extremist Jewish settlers amid 120,000 Palestinians in Hebron has put a heavy burden on the Israel Defense Force. Think what the world would be like if every tribe and sect pressed its claims on that basis."  

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