As a Jewish community, we have always thought of ourselves as peaceful and law-abiding — with our most vitriolic arguments carried out in press releases, blog rants and Facebook posts. Sure, we may be hot headed or even argumentative, but that’s because we fight with words. But violent? No way.
Yet a growing amount of evidence suggests that not all of us are committed to solving problems peacefully. For example, we don’t yet know the motivation of Michael Kaydar, the Israeli man who was arrested on suspicion of making bomb threats to dozens of Jewish institutions, threats that literally terrorized segments of our community. And in some of this country’s haredi Orthodox neighborhoods, shomrim, or watchmen groups have been criticized for vigilantism. Add to that the growing loss of communal civility, which occasionally leads to violence.
Sure, these are all exceptions, and we are still a peaceful and welcoming Jewish community. But the aberrational events aren’t quite as isolated as we like to think they are.
Now we come to the reappearance of the Jewish Defense League — founded by the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane in the 1960s — which was considered moribund until some of its members appeared outside the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington last week and violently disrupted peaceful protests there. (The affiliated Kach party has been outlawed in Israel for years.) Meir Weinstein, who called himself the coordinator of the JDL, said the group came primarily “to counter the anti-Israel mobs that are going to show up” and to protect Jews attending the conference, who he said were in danger of being attacked.
No one at AIPAC needed the JDL. With an overwhelming police presence and demonstrators prone to do nothing more than shout slogans, no one was in danger of being attacked. That is, until men carrying signs bearing the JDL logo started attacking protesters with IfNotNow, which came to AIPAC to call for an end to Israel’s military and civilian presence in the West Bank.
Police separated the two groups. Later, at a protest by pro-Palestinian groups, apparent JDL members were caught on video hitting a man lying on the ground with a flag pole and kicking him. Two men were arrested.
To be clear, we wouldn’t have been out marching with either of the protest groups. We don’t agree with the pro-Palestinians’ one-state solution of replacing Israel with a Palestinian state. And we think IfNotNow’s tactics are overly theatrical and its vision insufficiently practical. But none of those views is a crime.
What is a crime, however, is thugs attacking lawful demonstrators in an effort to deprive them of their freedom of speech. Violent vigilantes should be arrested and prosecuted. But since the incident, some in our community have defended the JDL and condemned the victims. That’s distressing. And it is just more proof that we may not be quite as peaceful and law-abiding as we’d like to believe.