Israel

The Rabbi Calling for Total Annihilation of Gazans is One of Us: How Do We Take Responsibility?

by Dr. Elana Sztokman

The rabbi of the “yeshiva” in Yaffo has said that he thinks that according to Jewish halakha, all the people in Gaza should be killed. Even the babies.

He said that. Rabbi Eliyahu Mali. Rabbi of the right wing yeshiva in the Ajami neighborhood of Yaffo. Calling for Israel to murder of 2.2 million Gazans, including babies.

Take that in for a second.

A rabbi whose yeshivah is being funded by the government shamelessly calling for the murder of an entire population. Wiping them all out.

This happened. And nothing is being done to stop him or silence him or even defund this guy.

Let’s take that in for a moment.

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And btw, his yeshiva students have been assaulting women wearing hijab on the street since October 7. Many women are afraid to leave their homes.

This is happening.

You will be hard-pressed to find a single media report about these events in the Israeli media. But I know women who have been assaulted since October 7. I know women afraid to leave their homes. Because of the guys in this yeshiva.

So there’s that.

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And I want to address how this impacts our own self-centered, self-promoting logic driving Israel since Oct 7 and maybe even for the past 25 years. Or more. And how this fits into the larger rhetorical battles in this ugly war.

Some people will read this and try to disavow from Jewish religious leaders like Mali calling for, effectively, genocide, anyone who tries to say, “He doesn’t represent me” or “He doesn’t represent Judaism” or “He’s not mainstream”. Great! Let’s disavow.

But, wait, does that work?

How do we choose who represents us and who doesn’t? When this guy and Ben Gvir and Bibi and whoever else says stuff like this, and have money and platforms and followers to support all this, can we actually legitimately claim that this guy is some kind of outsider?

This guy’s yeshiva receives funding from the government, as part of the governmental agenda to create a Jewish “presence” in Arab communities. This government has no fewer than three ministries with budgets specifically for stuff like this. It’s happening, all over the country, guys like this building yeshivahs preferably in Arab communities, in order to spread their ideas. So that’s real. That is happening.

Actually, the yeshiva’s biggest sponsor is Ben Gvir, who occasionally comes to visit and give, you know hizuk. Make a big public splash with his photographers and his new suit and tie. Show who’s boss, as he likes to say. Who is the “baal habayit“, the landlord, as he likes to say.

Ben Gvir and his 15 mandates. Giving this guy a massive boost.

This rabbi is not “one of us”? He’s not “mainstream” in Israel? He’s not legitimate? Hmmm. Not sure that works.

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But I really want to look at this logic of asking WHO is responsible when someone with a platform and a budget and government support says something? Are we responsible? Can we say, “no, no, he’s not one of us, he’s just an outlier?” Can we really make that claim?

I especially want to ask this question because Israel has been arguing that Hamas terrorists are NOT outliers in their communities. That if 30,000 Hamas terrorists live among 2.2 million people, then ALL the people of Gaza hold responsibility for their presence. That any Gazan who did not succeed in rooting out Hamas deserves whatever bombing and starvation and homelessness comes their way. We have been saying for 20+ years that all Gazans are responsible for the presence of Hamas terrorists.

So let’s turn this logic back on ourselves.

If this racist, blood-thirsty so-called rabbi, part of a movement that got 15 mandates, a segment representing over a million Israelis, if they have such a powerful presence in our society, and the rest of us have NOT succeeded in rooting it out (whatever that even means — I mean, I’m also asking what Israel expects non-terrorist Gazans to do about the terrorists among them, and similarly asking what we as non-BenGvir supporters are supposed to do about the spread of his ideas), and if we believe this idea that people who fail to root out the violent creeds spreading in their societies deserve what is coming — that in the case of Gaza, they deserve to be bombed and starved and displaced — then what does that say about US? What do WE ISRAELIS deserve based on the fact that guys like this exist, that they have a following and large budgets and a powerful head of security with his own private militia supporting him? What do WE deserve?

I want us to think about this next time we complain about the way the world talks about us. When we hear people saying that the Israeli army is committing inhumane acts and we are all like, NO NO NO… When the Hague wants to bring us up on charges b/c our Prime Minister and other ministers say things like ‘We will destroy every mosque, every kindergarten in Gaza’ (as Israeli ambassador to the UK Tsipi Hotoveli said on British radio, for example) ….When stuff like that is out there, and we want to push back and say, “NO NO! THEY DIDN’T MEAN IT! IT’S NOT OUR FAULT! WE’VE DONE NOTHING WRONG!” let’s just remember this guy Mali. And ask ourselves if we’ve really done whatever we can to make sure that these ideas do not take root in our society and in our government’s policies.

Have we? Have we done what we can? Do we deserve to be absolved from responsibility here?

Put differently, Israel’s entire strategy in this war, in which the IDF bombs places like kindergartens and schools and hospitals, is that if the people in these places “allow” Hamas terrorists to be in the vicinity and do not “disavow” the violence, then they deserve what’s coming to them.

And so I am asking myself — and Jews and Israelis everywhere — are we disavowing guys like this loudly enough? We want to say they don’t represent us. We want to say that we DO NOT BELIEVE that mass murder and genocide are okay. And yet, we have guys like this saying things like this. So if we’re not disavowing — and not actively trying to stop our own army from carrying out acts that include killing babies and children — then does the rest of the world have the right to say that WE JEWS AND ISRAELIS are supporting a genocidal philosophy? Just as some want to say that all of Gazans deserve what is coming b/c they have Hamas under their noses and don’t do anything about it, maybe we ALSO deserve what’s coming because we have guys like this under our noses and don’t do anything about it? In fact we put guys like this in our government and fund them and do nothing when they engage in everyday street violence against Arabs.

I’m just saying.

Dr. Elana Sztokman is an award-winning Jewish feminist author, anthropologist, and activist. Two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Council prize, her most recent book, When Rabbis Abuse: Gender, Power, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture, won the Best 2023 Jewish Non-Fiction award of Hey Alma. Follow her on Substack, at The Roar, https://elanasztokman.substack.com/

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