|Holocaust survivors warn of stirrings of neo-fascism
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 parts of the country.
Telegraph | December 31, 2010
Until this month, the shadowy Lehava organisation 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 is a gentile.
But in recent weeks it 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.
In the broader political spectrum, 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, some of them of senior rank, 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 Berlin, where Jews were relegated to second-class status and denied the right to rent German-owned properties, the pronouncement has appalled Holocaust survivors.
"As someone who suffered as a Jew and underwent the Holocaust, I remember the Nazis throwing Jews out of their apartments and city centres in order to create ghettos," said Noah Flug, the 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 also 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 are 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.
Lehava has caused widespread concern by concentrating its attention on Israel's Arab minority, which makes up 20 per cent of the population. 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 towards its Arab minority has been tarnished. Chanting "death to the Arabs", a group of ultraorthodox Jews threw bottles and stones at a block of flats housing Arab students in the northern town of Safed. Elsewhere in the country, there have been several reported cases of Jewish gangs, one of them consisting of teenage girls, beating up Arabs on the street.
Mr Flug, who said many fellow survivors of the Holocaust had called him to express their anxiety, 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."