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December 18, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 18, 2009
 

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 18, 2009 By Leslie Susser JERUSALEM (JTA)--In the wake of the Israeli govern- ment's freeze on building in WestBanksettlements, Jewish settlers are planning wide- spread protests and demon- strations, including blocking roads in Israel proper. Their aim is to delegitimize the freeze decision among the public. The danger for the set- tiers, however, is if they are perceived as too extreme, their actions could actually hurt their public standing. In a campaign reminiscent of actions by the far right in the aftermath of the Oslo agreements in the mid-1990s and the run-up to the Gaza disengagement in 2005, young radical settlers plan to keep the police guessing as they turn up randomly at major thorough- fares at different times to block the traffic. Their first target was traffic to and from Jerusalem, where dozens of settler youths were quickly dispersed by police Dec. 7 after trying to block the main entrance to the city. Settler youths also have been at the forefront of moves to harass government inspec- tors entering the settlements to issue warrants against further building. In several cases this has led to violent confrontations between set- tlers and police protecting the inspectors. The worst settler violence, however, has been against Palestinians. In what they call "the price tag" policy, extrem- ists attack nearby villages whenever they feel the gov- ernment is trying to restrict settlement in any way. Over the weekend, settlers rampaged through the village of Einbus, near Nablus, torchingvehicles and setting a home on fire. Although settler leaders have spoken out against vio- lence, they are not fully in control of the situation, and Prime Minister Benjamin Ne- tanyahu haswarned the settler community not to cross the fine line between legitimate protest action and open rebel- lion. And while the mood is not as ominous as itwas in the days leading up to the Rabin assas- sination in 1995, the Shin Bet security service has intensified its already close protection of the prime minister. Besides the protests and demonstrations, the settlers plan legal and political action against the freeze. They have petitionedtheSupreme Court, arguing that the authorities had no right to implement a political freeze without the settlers first being given a hearing. Their main hope, though, is in the political arena, where the settlers are banking on a rebellion within the Likud Party. Although the two most hawkish parties in the govern- ment, Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home, have expressed deep sympathy for the settlers, they show no sign of bolting the coalition over the freeze. Inside Likud, there has been a degree of unrest, as government ministers and Knesset members criticized the freeze as antithetical to party ideology. No one, how- ever, has threatened to resign over it, and the chances of a full-scale rebellion within the party--like the one against Ariel Sharon over the Gaza disengagement in 2005--are remote. In 2005, Sharon found him- self under attack from leading Likudniks, such as Uzi Landau and Netanyahu himself, who were ready to resign their min- isterial posts to throw in their lot with the settler cause. That is not the case today, and there seems to be little likelihood of Netanyahu's government be- ing shaken by internal party ferment. Nevertheless, given the threat, Netanyahu has been working hard to cultivate wide party support. He has been able to play on the trauma of the break with Sharon and to urge the rebels not to take action that again could split the party. His second argument has been to stress that the freeze is for 10 months only and will not be repeated. On the con- trary, Netanyahu says, as soon as it lapses, building will be resumed at an accelerated rate. The prime minister also as- sured would-be rebels Dec. 6 that there would be no second disengagement Gaza-style, and that the future of the West Bank would be decided only in a final peace deal with the Palestinians, who thus far are showing no interest in mak- ing peace. Apart from the fact that no ministers or Knesset members have walked out on him, Ne- tanyahu has received strong backing from some 50 of the Likud's veteran mayors. His position in the party seems unassailable. Despite all the settler agita- tion, the government has been unwavering in its determina- tion to implement the freeze. It has taken satellite photographs of the region to make it easy to pick up any new building, and mobilizeddozens of inspectors Abir Sultan/Flash 90/JTA West Bank settlers and their supporters, including yeshiva students, try to block traffic entering Jerusalem on Dec. 7 to protest settlement freeze. to monitor the situation on a daily basis. Seasoned officers in the Israel Defense Forces say that for the first time, the government has issued clear and serious instructions on how to implement a building freeze. The big question, though, is how serious Netanyahu is about using the freeze as a springboard for cutting a deal with the Palestinians. Serious implementation of the freeze doesn't necessarily mean serious strategic intent, and several leading pundits see the freeze as nothing more than a tactic to blame the Palestinians for failure to make peace. Netanyahu himself has hinted as much, adding that the freeze also was necessary to get America in Israel's corner on other key issues, like Iran. His message to the settlers seems to be to wait out the 10 months, during which time nothing will happen on the Palestinian front, and then, together with the government, they can go back to the busi- ness of settlement building. The trouble is, the settlers don't trust Netanyahu and fear that under pressure from the international community, he will sell them out and the freeze will serve to prepare public opinion for a tei, ritorial compromisewith the Palestin- ians at their expense. JERUSALEM (JTA)--Israeli security officials are concerned that Palestinian attacks on Jews will increase after the torching of a West Bank mosque.The army has increased its presence in the Nablus area of the West Bank, where vandals raided a mosque in the village of Yasuf before dawn Friday, burning furniture, prayer rugs and holy texts and defacing the mosque's walls, accordingto reports. One graffiti read "Price tag--greet- ings from Effi." Effi is a Hebrew name and "price tag" refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in ret- ribution for settlement freezes. The increased security is reportedly to prevent more at- tacks by Jewish extremists and reprisal attacks by Palestinians. Aday after the mosque attack, an Israeli woman was repeatedly stabbed in the back at a bus stop in the West Bank. The woman, 22, was attacked late Saturday night near Gush Etzion; she is recovering ht Hadassah Ein Keremhospital.Theattackeres- caped. Another person waiting at the bus stop was not harmed. It was unclear if the stab- bing was connected to the Mosque attack. Meanwhile, dozens of Reli- gious Zionist rabbis and activ- ists from around the county were set to visit the village Sunday in order to help clean and fix the mosque, and donate copies of the Koran to replace the holy books destroyed in the arson attack; Ynet reported. The rabbis arrived at a junction near the village and, though the visit had been prop- erly coordinated were detained by the IDF Sunday afternoon. By the time they had permis- sion to enter the village it was too late and they left, Ynet reported, The Korans were taken into the village by a Muslim representative. Prime Minist~~ Benjamin Netanyahu's government re- cently announced the launch of a 10-month settlement freeze with an eye toward accommodating the Obama administration's attempts to revive peace talks. Ehud Barak, the Israeli de- fenseminister, slammed the attack. "This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government's efforts to advance the political pro- cess for the sake of Israel's future," Ha'aretz quoted him as saying. The Israeli army is continu- ~ng to investigate the incident. As of Sunday afternoon, no arrests had been made. By Ruth Ellen Gruber BUDAPEST (JTA)--Swiss voters may have been taking aim at Islam, but Jewish and Catholic leaders are among those crying foul. Jewish organizations have joined Muslims, the Vatican and other groups in warn- ing that a Swiss referendum banning the construction of mosque minarets could fuel hatred, jeopardize religious freedom and further polarize an already divided society. "Discriminatory laws like a ban on minarets are likely to alienate rather than ease integration," the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement following the Nov. 29 vote. "They also give succor to the unacceptable politics of unlimited hate being peddled around Europe by right-wing extremists." France's chief rabbi also criticized the vote, as did two influential U.S. Jewish organi- zations, the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee. Both the Swiss government and Switzer- land's Jewish community had strongly opposed the initia- tive. Called by the far-right Swiss People's Party--the country's largest political party--the referendum won the support of nearly 58 percent of voters. The result, which stunned many observers, mandates a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets, or prayer towers, on newly built mosques. The referendum is the latest round in a series of ongoing debates and controversies over how to deal with a growing Muslim population in Europe. In France, there have been sharp debates over whether Muslim women should be al- lowed to wear veils in public schools. And in the past few years, anti-immigrant protest- ers have demonstrated against the building of mosques in Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Western Europe. Posters backing the Swiss referendum had blatantly played on fears of Islamist extremism. Some showed a sinister, black-veiled figure in front of black minarets arrayed to look like missiles rising out of a Swiss flag. Martin Baltisser, the gen- eral secretary of the Swiss People's Party, told the BBC, "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power." About400,000Muslims live in Switzerland in a population of 7.5 million. Four mosques in the country have minarets. Many Muslims in Switzer- land are refugees from the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s. zum Minarett- verbot Rytc/Creative Commons Poster in Zurich backing the referendum banning the construction of mosque minarets that won handily in Switzerland. During those wars, Ortho- dox Serb and Catholic Croat fighters deliberately targeted hundreds of mosques for de- struction. In ajointstatement ahead of the vote, the two main Swiss Jewish umbrella groups op- posed the measure. "Precisely because the Jew- ish community has firsthand experience of discrimination, it is committed to active op- position to discrimination and to action in favor of religious freedom and peaceful relations between the religions," the two Swiss Jewish groups declared. Swiss Jewry, the statement said, "takes seriously the fears of the population that extrem- ist ideas could be disseminated in Switzerland. But banning minarets is no solution--it only creates in Muslims in Switzerland a sense of alien- ation and discrimination." The results of the ref- erendum drew widespread criticism from the Vatican, Muslim leaders, the United Nations and other political and religious bodies around the world. Jewish criticism focused on concern that the crackdown on Muslims could foster extremism and harm efforts to integrate Muslim com- munities. But Jewish leaders also warned of possible reper- cussions for Jews and other minorities. "For the Swiss People's Party, as for all far-right parties in Europe, any group that is different in terms of its appearance or its language or its cultural or religious traditions is regarded as a target," said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Commit- tee. "We stand firmly against these rabble-rousing politics in the name of pluralism and democracy." The Anti-Defamation League slammed the referen- dum as "a populist political campaign of religious intol- erance." "This is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance," the ADL said in a statement. "A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population. We share the...concern that those who initiated the anti-minaret campaign could try to fur- ther erode religious freedom through similar means." France's Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim called on leaders of "all religions" to work for "dialogue and openness." Bernhiem and others re- called that until Jews were granted civil rights, European rulers often had imposed bans or regulations on the size or visibility of synagogues, frequently forbidding syna- gogues to stand taller than local churches. "In many buildings in Bu- dapest you find prayer rooms or synagogues hidden away in courtyards--you can't see them from the outside," said Mircea Cernov, who heads Haver, a foundation in the Hungarian capital that pro- motes education and dialogue between Jews and non-Jews. Cernov joined Bernheim in calling for dialogue rather than legal restrictions to tackle the issue of the growing Muslim presence in Europe. "The moment something is a formal restriction, de- bate and critical response to the issue is closed," Cernov said. "This can lead in a very short time to a polarization or radicalization of the question." Philip Carmel, spokesman for the Conference of Euro- pean Rabbis, also stressed the need for dialogue rather than restrictions. He said the group's rabbis at their recent conference in Moscow had condemned the posters sup- porting the referendum. "It is not by banning mina- rets that one combats Islamic fundamentalism in Europe," Carmel said, "but by engag- ing in serious dialogue with moderate forces within Islam to build a united and demo- cratic Europe."