A Warning from Survivors of the Holocaust: Rising of Neo-Fascism in Israel

Survivors of the Holocaust have warned of the first stirrings of neo-fascism in Israel following the emergence of a right-wing campaign to cleanse Arabs from predominantly Jewish areas.

Until this month, the shadowy Lehava organization was best known for issuing an eccentric demand in March urging Bar Refaeli, an Israeli model, not to marry Leonardo DiCaprio, the American actor, because he was a gentile.

But in recent weeks Lehava has taken on a more sinister hue by spearheading a series of actions that included a rally in the coastal city of Bat Yam to denounce Jews who rent their homes to Arabs. Israel’s Arab minority makes up 20 per cent of the population.

Lehava may represent a tiny minority of malcontents, but there is growing unease in Israel after the message about renting homes was effectively endorsed by 300 rabbis.

The rabbis signed up to an edict issued last month that declared: “It is forbidden in the Torah to sell a house or a field in the land of Israel to a foreigner.”

With its undertones reminiscent of 1930s Germany, where Jews were relegated to second-class status and denied the right to rent German-owned properties, the Lehava pronouncement has appalled Holocaust survivors.

“As someone who suffered as a Jew and had the Holocaust, I remember the Nazis throwing Jews out of their apartments and city centres in order to create ghettos,” said Noah Flug, chairman of the International Association of Holocaust Survivors.

“I remember how they wrote on benches that no Jews were allowed, and of course it was prohibited to sell or rent to Jews. We thought that in our country this wouldn’t happen.”

As part of a campaign to “purify” the land of Israel, Lehava has invited informants to denounce Jewish neighbours who have Arab tenants by telephoning a hotline.

This week it distributed a letter from a group of rabbis’ wives calling on Jewish girls not to go out with Arabs, work with them or perform national service in places where Arabs were employed.

The provenance of Lehava, whose Hebrew acronym stands for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land,” remains largely a mystery, although there is evidence to suggest that it comprises remnants of Kach, a far-right movement banned in 1994.

One of the only individuals publicly associated with Lehava is Baruch Marzel, a former Kach spokesman.

Israeli politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, as well as a large number of rabbis have denounced the edict.

Yet Israel’s reputation of tolerance and inclusion has been tarnished. Chanting “death to the Arabs,” a group of ultraorthodox Jews threw stones at apartments housing Arab students in the northern town of Safed.

Elsewhere, there have been several reported cases of Jewish gangs beating up Arabs on the street.

Flug appealed to the Israeli government to take action against the rabbis.

“Can you imagine what would happen if a Jew in Germany or Switzerland or Britain wanted to rent an apartment and neighbours or the mayor said no?” he said. “You must stop this kind of thing when it begins.”


Adrian Blomfield

Daily Telegraph

January 1, 2011


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