Jewish Religious Terrorism
Jewish religious terrorism is religious terrorism committed by extremists within Judaism motivated by religious rather than ethnic or nationalistic beliefs.
Zealotry in the 1st century
According to a paper authored by then Center for Defense Information research analyst Mark Burgess, the 1st century Jewish political and religious movement called Zealotry was one of the first examples of the use of terrorism by Jews. They sought to incite the people of Judaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from Israel by force of arms. The term Zealot, in Hebrew kanai, means one who is zealous on behalf of God. The most extremist groups of Zealots were called Sicarii. Sicarii used violent stealth tactics against Romans. Under their cloaks they concealed sicae, or small daggers, from which they received their name. At popular assemblies, particularly during the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, they stabbed their enemies (Romans or Roman sympathizers, Herodians), lamenting ostentatiously after the deed to blend into the crowd to escape detection. In one account, given in the Talmud, Sicarii destroyed the city’s food supply so that the people would be forced to fight against the Roman siege instead of negotiating peace. Sicarii also raided Jewish habitations and killed fellow Jews whom they considered apostates and collaborators.
It has been suggested that a similarity between Jewish religious terrorists and jihad networks in Western democracies is their alienation and isolation from the values of the majority, mainstream culture, which they view as an existential threat to their own community. Other similarities between these groups are that their ideology is not exclusively religious, as it attempts to achieve political, territorial, and nationalistic goals as well, e. g., the disruption of the Camp David accords. However, the newer of these Jewish groups have tended to emphasize religious motives for their actions at the expense of secular ones. In the case of Jewish terrorism, most networks consist of religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox Jews living in isolated, homogenous communities.
Shin Bet has complained that the Israeli government is too lenient in dealing with religious extremism of Jewish extremists who want the creation of a Jewish land based on halacha, Jewish religious laws. Says Haaretz: “The Shin Bet complained that the courts are too lenient, particularly in enforcement against those who violate restraining orders distancing them from the West Bank or restricting their movement. The Shin Bet supports the position of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has called for limited use of administrative detention against Jewish terrorists.” Israeli agencies keeping tabs on the religious terrorist groups say they are “anarchist” and “anti-Zionist”, motivated to bring down the government of Israel and create a new Israeli “kingdom” that would operate according to halacha (Jewish law). A week after the July 2015 attacks, administrative detention was approved for Jewish terror suspects.
The following groups have been considered religious terrorist organizations in Israel:
- Brit HaKanaim (בְּרִית הַקַנַאִים, lit. Covenant of the Zealots) was a radical religious Jewish underground organization which operated in Israel between 1950 and 1953, against the widespread trend of secularisation in the country. The ultimate goal of the movement was to impose Jewish religious law in the State of Israel and establish a Halakhic state.
- The Kingdom of Israel group (מלכות ישראל, Malchut Yisrael), or Tzrifin Underground, were active in Israel in the 1950s. The group carried out attacks on the diplomatic facilities of the USSR and Czechoslovakia and occasionally shot at Jordanian troops stationed along the border in Jerusalem. Members of the group were caught trying to bomb the Israeli Ministry of Education in May 1953, have been described as acting because of the secularisation of Jewish North African immigrants which they saw as ‘a direct assault on the religious Jews’ way of life and as an existential threat to the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel.’
- Gush Emunim Underground (1979–1984): formed by members of the Israeli political movement Gush Emunim. This group is most well known for two actions: firstly, for bomb attacks on the mayors of West Bank cities on June 2, 1980, and secondly, an abandoned plot to blow up the Temple Mount mosques. The Israeli Judge Zvi Cohen, heading the sentencing panel at the group’s trial, stated that they had three motives, “not necessarily shared by all the defendants. The first motive, at the heart of the Temple Mount conspiracy, is religious.”
- Keshet (Kvutza Shelo Titpasher) (1981–1989): A Tel Aviv anti-Zionist Haredi group focused on bombing property without loss of life.:101 Yigal Marcus, Tel Aviv District Police commander, said that he considered the group a gang of criminals, not a terrorist group.
- Sicarii, an Israeli terrorist group founded in 1989 who made arson and graffiti attacks on leftist Jewish politicians. They were opposed to any process of rapprochement with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
- The “Bat Ayin Underground” or Bat Ayin group. In 2002, four people from Bat Ayin and Hebron were arrested outside of Abu Tor School, a Palestinian girls’ school in East Jerusalem, with a trailer filled with explosives. Three of the men were convicted for the attempted bombing.
- Lehava, was referred to as an extreme religious minority trying through terror to implement their views of how the society should look. In January 2015, Channel 2 reported that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon may be preparing to categorize Lehava as a terrorist organization. Ya’alon was reported to have ordered the Shin Bet and the Defense Ministry to assemble evidence required for the classification. Former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni stated that Ya’alon’s move to name anti-assimilation group Lehava a terrorist organization should have been made months before. “This organization works from hatred, racism, and nationalism, and its goal is to bring an escalation of violence within us”, she said. Tamar Hermann, a sociologist and pollster with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), reports that government action against Lehava has only come following months of petitioning by “left-leaning Israelis and media commentators.” Israeli rabbi Binyamin Lau, warned that: “Lehava wants to implement a reign of religious terror.”
- Sikrikim, a radical group of ultra-Orthodox Jews based mainly in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods Meah Shearim in Jerusalem and in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The anti-Zionist group is thought to have roughly 100 activist members. The Sikrikim gained international attention for acts of violence they committed against Orthodox Jewish institutions and individuals who would not comply with their demands. They are loosely affiliated with Neturei Karta.
- Kach and Kahane Chai, a banned far-right party in Israel. Today, both groups are considered terrorist organisations by Israel, Canada, the European Union and the United States.The groups are believed to have an overlapping core membership of fewer than 100 people. The Jewish Defense League in America, founded by Kahane, is also considered terrorist. FBIstatistics show that, from 1980 to 1985, 15 terrorist attacks were attempted in the U.S. by JDL members. The FBI’s Mary Doran described the JDL in 2004 Congressional testimony as “a proscribed terrorist group”. The National Consortium for the Study of Terror and Responses to Terrorism states that, during the JDL’s first two decades of activity, it was an “active terrorist organization.”
- Terror Against Terror (Terror Neged Terror, “TNT”) was a radical Jewish militant organization that sponsored several attacks against Palestinian targets. The group was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach organization, and took its name from Kahane’s theory that Arab terrorism should be met with Jewish terrorism.
- The Revolt terror group: Members of the Jewish “Revolt” terror group claim the secular State of Israel has no right to existence; they hope to create a Jewish Kingdom in Israel, and that Arabs will be killed if they refuse to leave. Shin Bet says the “Revolt” group’s ideology began to evolve in October 2013, shaped by veteran “hilltop youth”, including Rabbi Meir Kahane’s grandson, Meir Ettinger, who was temporarily put under administrative detention. Before the Duma attack, the group’s members had committed 11 arson attacks against Palestinians or Christian churches. 23 of their members were detained because of the Duma attacks.
Several violent acts by Jews have been described as terrorism and attributed to religious motivations. The following are the most notable:
- Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, has been described as terrorism with a religious motivation.:98–110 Amir was quoted as saying he had “acted alone and on orders from God”, and that, “If not for a Halakhic ruling of din rodef, made against Rabin by a few rabbis I knew about, it would have been very difficult for me to kill.”:45 A former combat soldier who had studied Jewish law, Amir stated that his decision to kill the prime minister was influenced by the opinions of militant rabbis that such an assassination would be justified by the Halakhic ruling of din rodef (“pursuer’s decree”).:48 This Jewish religious concept allows for an immediate execution of a person if that person is “pursuing”, that is, attempting immediately to take your life or the life of another person, although the characterization of Rabin as din rodef was rejected as a perversion of law by most rabbinic authorities.:255 According to Amir, allowing the Palestinian Authority to expand on the West Bank represented such a danger.:48Amir was associated with the radical Eyal movement, which had been greatly influenced by Kahanism.:53
- Baruch Goldstein an American-born Israeli physician, perpetrated the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in the city of Hebron, in which he shot and killed 29 Muslim worshipers inside the Ibrahimi Mosque (within the Cave of the Patriarchs), and wounded another 125 people. Goldstein was killed by the survivors. Goldstein was a supporter of Kach, an Israeli political party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane that advocated the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Territories. In the aftermath of the Goldstein attack and Kach statements praising it, Kach was outlawed in Israel.
- Eden Natan-Zada killed four Israeli Arab civilians on August 4, 2005. His actions were condemned by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, as “a reprehensible act by a bloodthirsty Jewish terrorist”, and author Ami Pedahzur describes his motivations as religious.:134
- Three marchers in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem on June 30, 2005 were stabbed by Yishai Shlisel, a Haredi Jew. Shlisel claimed he had acted “in the name of God”. He was charged with attempted murder.
- Yaakov Teitel an American-born Israeli, was arrested in the aftermath of the 2009 Tel Aviv gay center shooting for putting up posters that praised the attack. Although Teitel confessed to the gay center shooting, Israeli police have determined that he had no part in the attack. In 2009, Teitel was arrested and indicted for several acts of domestic terror, namely a pipe bomb attack against leftist intellectual Zeev Sternhell, the murders of a Palestinian taxi driver and a West Bank shepherd in 1997, and sending a booby-trapped package to the home of a “Messianic Jewish” family in Ariel. A search of his home revealed a cache of guns and parts used in explosive devices. As of January 2011, the case was still pending trial. On January 16, 2013 Teitel was convicted of two murders, two attempted murders, and several other charges.
- Asher Weisgan was an Israeli bus driver who shot and murdered four Palestinians and injured one other in the Israeli settlement of Shiloh in the West Bank on 17 August 2005. Weisgan wanted to disrupt the Israeli Government’s unilateral disengagement plan in Gaza by sparking a Palestinian reaction. On 27 September 2006, Weisgan was sentenced by the Israeli court to four consecutive terms of life in prison, for each person he killed, and an additional twelve years in jail. Later that year, he committed suicide by hanging himself in prison. The Haaretz newspaper quoted Weisgan having declared, before entering a courthouse outside of Tel Aviv, ‘I’m not sorry for what I did. I hope someone also kills Sharon.’
- The kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir occurred early on the morning of 2 July 2014, a day after the burial of three murdered Israeli teens. Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian, was forced into a car by Israeli settlers on an East Jerusalem street. Yosef Ben-David and 2 minors were arrested for the act. Preliminary results from the autopsy suggested that he was beaten and burnt while still alive. He was beaten repeatedly with a crowbar, each blow accompanied by a recital of Jewish victims of terrorism . Khdeir was recognized by Israel as a victim of terrorism, a move which entitled the family to compensation. The murders contributed to a breakout of hostilities in the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.
- Duma arson attack: In July 2015, an Arab baby died, and other family members were injured, in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “terrorist” act. Perpetrators left graffiti in Hebrew on the gutted home saying “Revenge!” and “Long live the messiah!”, or “Yechi Hamelech Hamashiach”, the motto of the messianist wing of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which believes that Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a rabbi who died in 1994, “is the messiah and will return to rebuild the ancient kingdom and redeem the world”. The motive, as stated in the indictment, was revenge for the murder of the young Israeli Malachi Rosenfeld by Palestinians, near Duma, about a month earlier. On August 8, the father of Ali Dawabsha, Saad Dawabsha, died of the burns he sustained in the attack.
- On 30 July 2015, six marchers were injured, again by Yishai Shlisel when he stabbed them. It was three weeks after he was released from jail. One of the victims, 16-year-old Shira Banki, died of her wounds at the Hadassah Medical Center three days later, on 2 August 2015. Shortly after, Prime Minister Netanyahu offered his condolences, adding “We will deal with the murderer to the fullest extent of the law.”
- “Explaining Part 1: The Axis of Good and Evil.” Section “Terrorism Across Religions.” by Mark Burgess. Agentura.ru.
- Pedahzur, Ami; Perliger, Arie (2009). Jewish terrorism in Israel. Columbia University Press. p. 196. ISBN978-0-231-15446-8.
Our Jewish terrorism dataset consists of a list of terror incidents perpetrated by Jewish terrorists in Israel.
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-  (in Hebrew)
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