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The situation in Yitzhar was more complex. It began April 1 when Border Police demolished an illegally-built family home in the settlement, considered one of the West Bank’s most radical. The demolition prompted widespread protest. Some settlers complained that the army constantly cracks down on settler building violations while ignoring Palestinian infractions. (In fact unauthorized Palestinian structures are demolished at about six times the rate of settler buildings, despite Israel’s international commitments and Supreme Court orders.) Days later, settlers slashed the tires of a visiting IDF colonel, and the next day another soldier’s tires. A day later, April 8, came the riot. Even right-wing opinion began abandoning Yitzhar.
On April 10, though, the army blew its advantage. It took over Yitzhar’s Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, a hotbed of anti-Arab and anti-IDF incitement, for use as a base. The religious right was inflamed. Dozens of rabbis signed a protest letter. Hundreds, including prominent rabbis, politicians and far-right luminaries, flocked to Yitzhar for an April 17 protest rally. Speakers compared the Israeli government and military to Soviet communism and to the biblical Absalom, who rebelled against King David.
The closing lecture, by the yeshiva’s chairman and former dean, Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburgh, focused on Passover as a time for liberation from the “Israeli establishment” and on the “undisciplined” actions of settler youth as “birth pangs” of the messianic age.
The Passover clashes at Mesquite and Yitzhar aren’t sudden or unique events. The American West has seen its share of armed standoffs between federal agents and the anti-government right. Likewise, there have been settler attacks on army bases before, and more than a few violent clashes between settlers and soldiers.
What the clashes do represent is a sort of mile marker in the evolution of the far right in Israel and America — and in the convergence of the two countries’ conservative movements. Both countries are experiencing a steady mainstreaming of what was once a far-right fringe. It’s a movement that views liberalism as profoundly illegitimate, that treats the democratic process as subordinate to its own conservative vision. A 30-year alliance between the two countries’ right wings has created a sort of transatlantic unity. Unlike the European far right, the American-Israeli variety has established itself as a legitimate presence on the mainstream right.
The simultaneous eruption of similar crises in both countries is not entirely coincidental. They’re now feeling strong enough to mount direct challenges to governmental authority and achieve at least partial victories. This is indeed their season of liberation. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org