Meir Ettinger started his career in anti-Arab activism in relatively modest and unexceptional fashion. The young man now being designated as the number one Jewish terrorism suspect of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency would, as a 20-year-old in 2011, go into the shops and stalls of Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market. He would ask the storekeepers if they employed Arabs and if the answer was “yes”, he would place an “x” next to the store’s name in his notebook. It was a marker for a boycott by fellow Arab haters.
Now Mr Ettinger has become the first far right activist arrested after last Friday’s attack by Jewish extremists in the West Bank, in which an 18-month-old Palestinian boy was burned alive and his parents and brother were severely wounded. The Shin Bet is not saying whether he has been linked to last week’s attack, only that he was taken into custody for “involvement and activity in a Jewish extremist organisation”.
Whether he is innocent or guilty of being involved in the Duma attack, Mr Ettinger has become the face of a violent extremism that many Israelis fear is spinning out of control and beginning to threaten the fabric of their society.
Recent years have seen a spate of hate assaults on Palestinian persons and property and mosques and churches.
Mr Ettinger’s remand was extended from Tuesday until Sunday by a judge in Nazareth District Court. His lawyer, Yuval Zemer, says the arrest is for the “public relations” purposes of the authorities, in order to give the impression they are doing something after the Duma attack. It will not result in charges, Mr Zemer says.
Mr Ettinger has voiced identification with two suspects being held in connection with the burning of the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee in June, but a Shin Bet spokeswoman declined to say if the 23-year-old, who is the son of a rabbi who teaches in a religious seminary, is a suspect in that attack.
Mr Ettinger is the grandson of Meir Kahane, the American-born anti-Arab extremist legislator who was assassinated in 1990 and who, along with another racist rabbi, Yitzchak Ginsburgh, appear to have helped shape his grandson’s world view.
Rabbi Kahane preached the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories and the reshaping of Israeli society along the lines of strict religious law so that, for example, the Sabbath would have to be observed in public. He also believed that democracy is incompatible with an authentically Jewish state.
In 2011, Mr Ettinger left Jerusalem and moved with other youths to Migron, an illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank. The following year he was jailed for six months after being convicted of gathering information on the movement of army forces in order to foil them from removing outposts.
It was while he was in jail that he reportedly met students of Rabbi Ginsburgh and began to embrace his teachings, which include the superiority of Jews over gentiles, who, except under very limited circumstances, should not be allowed to live in the Holy Land; that the biblical monarchy in the Land of Israel should be restored; and that Baruch Goldstein, the settler who massacred 29 Palestinians during mosque prayers in Hebron in 1994, was an exemplary Jew.
Mr Ettinger then took this fanaticism a step further than his peers and established himself as leader of a handful of like-minded youths by penning a tract called The Rebellion in 2013, in which he appeared to call for violent overthrow of the Israeli state. “The idea of the rebellion is very simple, the state of Israel has many weak points, subjects which people tiptoe around so as not to cause riots,” it said. “What we will do is simply ignite all of these powder kegs.”
The Shin Bet recommended that Mr Ettinger be placed under administrative detention earlier this year but Israeli state attorneys rejected that idea and instead he was banned from entering the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In a blog post just before his arrest, Mr Ettinger said it was a “lie” to say he was the head of any organisation. He said that his views were popular. “There are many Jews, many more than is thought, whose values are completely different from those of the supreme court and Shin Bet and for whom the binding laws are not the laws of the state but much more eternal laws,” he said.
David Ha’ivri, a long-time settler activist in the northern West Bank, said, however, that Mr Ettinger’s views were beyond the pale to the settler movement. “This group doesn’t have anything to do with the settler movement,” he said. “These are anarchists who don’t believe in Zionism and the state of Israel.”
But Gideon Aran, a Hebrew University sociologist, says youths such as Mr Ettinger are “playing an important historical role”. He said: “They give expression to the sentiment that many are party to but don’t dare express, certainly don’t dare do and don;t eve dare admit to themselves they have."
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