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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent