JERUSALEM — He has the pedigree: Meir Ettinger is the grandson and namesake of Meir Kahane, the slain American-Israeli rabbi considered the father of far-right Jewish militancy.
He has the record: For years, Mr. Ettinger has joined the radical group of Israeli settlers known as the hilltop youth in clashes with Palestinians and Israeli forces, leading to a ban on his entering Jerusalem or the occupied West Bank.
He also has the ideology: In a series of Bible-quoting blog posts that amount to a manifesto, Mr. Ettinger calls for the “dispossession of gentiles” who inhabit the Holy Land and the replacement of the modern Israeli state with a new “kingdom of Israel” ruled by the laws of the Torah.
“The key is not to seek to delay the explosion,” he wrote on July 22, “but to try to bring it on as soon as possible and on our own initiative.”
Amid politicians’ promises to crack down on Jewish terrorism suspects after the fatal firebombing of a Palestinian home on Friday, Mr. Ettinger on Tuesday became the name and face of what critics call a scourge on Israeli society. An Israeli court ordered him held for five days; the police said he was accused of conspiracy, membership in an illegal organization and “other things,” including “nationalist” crimes.
Shlomo Fischer, a sociologist at Hebrew University, said Mr. Ettinger was representative of a band of “violent activists” who “conceive of themselves as having a sort of charismatic, prophetic authority.” He likened it to the Jewish underground that plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in the 1980s.
“He doesn’t accept the validity of Israeli law, he doesn’t accept the validity of civic morality — all the restraining factors are weakened or gone,” Professor Fischer, who is also a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, said in an interview. “When some religious, political ideal is violated, they believe that if they act as a spring to correct it or respond to it, then they have religious validity, they are duty-bound to act. Whatever it takes to correct the situation.”
It was unclear whether Mr. Ettinger was suspected of any connection to the masked men who witnesses said set fire to two homes in the West Bank village of Duma early Friday, killing 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh and leaving his parents and 4-year-old brother critically injured. That attack has been condemned worldwide and across the political spectrum in Israel, where the security cabinet on Sunday directed law enforcement agents to “take all necessary steps and to use all means at their disposal” to apprehend the arsonists and “prevent similar attacks.”
The cabinet specifically endorsed administrative detention — holding suspects for months without formal charges — a tactic used widely against Palestinians but rarely against Jews.
A notable exception was Mr. Ettinger’s grandfather, in a 1980 case involving a cache of ammunition found in a Jerusalem yeshiva. Many Israeli analysts expect Mr. Ettinger to soon follow in those footsteps — a stark sign of the shift in Israel’s approach, since a request months ago to hold him in administrative detention was rejected by the judicial authorities.
In a sign of the government’s seriousness, Israel’s defense minister signed a six-month administrative detention order Tuesday night for Mordechai Meyer, who was arrested but not charged in connection with two church fires, including one less than two months ago in Israel’s Galilee region.
“Any method is kosher,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, even “tiltul,” a Hebrew term for violent shaking suspects in interrogations, which Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled is allowed only in rare cases, to prevent imminent violence. “Anything that is done when it comes to Palestinian terrorists, the same thing should be done when it comes to a Jewish terrorist.”
Mr. Ettinger’s lawyer, Yuval Zemer, denounced the detention of his client as overreach by political leaders under pressure to take harsh action and by security officials eager to flex their new muscles, after years of facing harsh criticism for lenient treatment of Jewish extremists.
“No urgent reason to arrest him arose yesterday,” Mr. Zemer said on Army Radio, “except for a desire to show, ‘We are doing something, we are arresting,’ and of course, what could be better than the No. 1 person of interest.”
Mr. Zemer told Israeli reporters at the court hearing that investigators dealing with Mr. Ettinger had been “shaking and punching him, even though this is against regulations.”
Mr. Ettinger, who the authorities said was 23 or 24, wears the long side locks of the ultra-Orthodox and the large, knitted skullcap of the hilltop youth, whose slogans include “Kahane was right.” Mr. Ettinger has been described in Israeli news reports as the most-wanted man for the Jewish division of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency.
Last week, the agency said that he was the leader of a new, shadowy network that had been operating since 2013 and that he had been barred since March from the West Bank and Jerusalem “because of the danger he poses.”
In announcing arrests of two members of this network for the June 18 burning of a church in the Galilee region, where Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Shin Bet said the group promotes “an extremist ideology that aspires to change the regime and bring about the redemption via various stages of actions.”
Mr. Ettinger’s father, Mordechai, is a rabbi affiliated with two Jerusalem yeshivas, one of which, Ateret Cohanim, buys properties in Arab areas for Jewish settlement. His mother, Tova — Meir Kahane’s daughter — said on Tuesday, “I’m not interested in speaking.”
In 2011, according to Israeli news reports, Mr. Ettinger broke into Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus. He lived in Migron, an illegal outpost evacuated by court order in 2012, and served months in jail for efforts to disrupt Israeli military evacuations of such outposts.
Last year, he was among 18 settlers held for hours by Palestinians in the village of Qusra after a confrontation in nearby olive orchards, an episode he described as a defeat in a video interview published on Hakol Hayehudi — The Jewish Voice — a website. Two of its founders were indicted last year on charges of incitement and racism.
“One can lose the battle and win the war,” Mr. Ettinger said in the interview. “We have to carry on, because God is with us.”
Mr. Ettinger, who now lives in the northern city of Safed, has since at least March been writing regular missives on Hakol Hayehudi that condemn Israel’s government, courts, rabbis and security forces, invoke divine authority for actions to protect settlements and denounce local churches and monasteries as “idolatry.”
Of the fire at the Galilee church attributed to his network by the Shin Bet, Mr. Ettinger wrote approvingly: “I don’t know what those anonymous lighters intended to set alight, but that fire touched my heart.”
On July 5, after a string of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, he said that a sense that the army could not protect Jews “can lead people with hot and sensitive hearts to private acts of retaliation.” Last week he denied the Shin Bet’s accusations, saying that “there is no terror organization.”
His latest post appeared Tuesday at 2:43 p.m., while he was in detention. It raged against the outcry over Duma as a “terrorist attack on Judaism and Jewish values” and said the Shin Bet’s crackdown “is encouraging an escalation by Jews.”
“We have strong, sturdy ropes,” he wrote, “that give us the strength to face all the imaginary walls and smoke screens and to say without fear what a Jewish state is.”
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(via NY Times)