Climate of hate still seethes on Israel's right

FOR warning that the children of extreme Israeli settlers in Hebron were like the Hitler Youth, Moshe Zimmerman was publicly threatened with death and sued for pounds 400,000.

"They said they would put a bomb in my car," says Professor Zimmerman, head of German studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who received police protection because of the threats. "One of the leaders of the settlers - the mayor of Kiryat Arba - threatened me openly on television."

Coming six months before the murder of the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, the violence of the reaction foreshadowed the growing intolerance of the Israeli right which, Leah Rabin says, set the stage for her husband's assassination.

Nor was the response confined to settlers in the occupied territories. At the Hebrew University itself no less than 79 professors and lecturers took a large advertisement in the press demanding that Professor Zimmerman be fired "for the honour of the Jewish people and for the honour of the university".

Since Mr Rabin's murder the constitutional right has been trying to rebut charges that it tolerated comparisons between the Prime Minister and Nazi leaders. In a notorious poster displayed at a right-wing rally in Jerusalem, his face is superimposed on a picture of Himmler, the author of the Final Solution.

Unsurprisingly, drawing parallels with Hitler's Germany carries an extreme emotional charge in Israel, but it is not unheard of. Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Me'a She'arim district of Jerusalem used to paint swastikas over the Star of David without creating much comment. Israeli politicians liken people to Nazis as a term of general abuse.

In the interview which started the so-called Zimmerman affair last April, the professor was more specific in his charges. He said: "There is an entire sector of the Jewish public which I unhesitatingly define as a copy of the German Nazis." He says he made his comments on the Hitler Youth after hearing a "radio interview with the children of settlers from Hebron on the first anniversary of the murder of 29 people in a mosque by Baruch Goldstein. The kids said: 'Goldstein is our hero.' "

"These children are trained like the Hitler Jugend to think ideologically without criticism," says Professor Zimmerman. "They are led to believe in racist views of themselves as the master race superior to the Arabs. They even have a song about Ami Popper, an Israeli who killed seven Palestinians four years ago. It goes: 'Ami Popper, Ami Popper, there is nobody like you.' "

Children from Hebron are now one of the three parties taking legal action against the professor, along with Rehavam Ze'evi, the leader of the right- wing Moledet party, and two reserve soldiers serving in a settlement. Somewhat taken aback, the historian says some of his comments were oversimplified - notably an apparent comparison between Israeli soldiers volunteering to serve in the occupied territories and German soldiers volunteering for the SS. Overall, however, he strongly defends his position, saying: "I'm not prepared to duck because several idiots filed charges against me."

Two months before Mr Rabin's death, Professor Zimmerman had also published an article comparing the political situation in Israel with that of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s. He drew particular attention to the murder in 1922 of Walter Rathenau, the Jewish foreign minister and industrialist, by three young men with links to the army who believed he was betraying the country.

When the Prime Minister was gunned down on 4 November, after addressing a 100,000-strong peace rally in Tel Aviv, Leah Rabin accused the main right-wing party, Likud, of creating an atmosphere of verbal violence. She had not wanted to shake hands with the party's leader Binyamin Netanyahu at her husband's funeral, she said. And she asked where the supporters of peace with the PLO were when its opponents demonised Mr Rabin.

Will the trauma of the assassination change the political atmosphere in Israel? Professor Zimmerman is doubtful. He says none of those who agreed or disagreed with him before the murder have changed their opinions since. National soul-searching about the death has turned out to be Israel's largest spectator sport: everybody is prepared to watch somebody else search their soul. The leader of one right-wing organisation - the Women in Green - has demanded Mrs Rabin apologise for her accusations.

The problem, Professor Zimmerman says, is that "there is a large segment within Israel which legitimises the murder of people, the murder of Arabs by Baruch Goldstein, and even the murder of Jews". They react explosively if compared to the Nazis, but were prepared to tolerate posters identifying Rabin with Himmler. And by that logic, "the death warrant against Rabin was justified".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms