Following worldwide horror and condemnation over the firebombing murder last Friday of 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsha in the Palestinian village of Duma, Israel’s Shin Bet arrested its first suspect on Monday – Meir Ettinger, the 23-year-old grandson of assassinated extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
Ettinger is considered a radical member and leader of Israel’s “hilltop youth,” young people from religiously observant families who move to settlement outposts, resist soldiers’ attempts to evacuate them, and intermittently carry out “price tag” hate crime attacks on Palestinian, Christian and Israeli targets.
Ettinger’s lawyer, Yuval Zemer, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that he was arrested in connection to the Duma murder.
“They suspect him of incitement, conspiracy, being behind the arson of the Church of Loaves and Fishes and they’re also connecting him to the event in Duma,” said Zemer.
Ettinger has had previous run-ins with the authorities. He was imprisoned for six months in the “spy affair” of 2012, for collecting intelligence about the IDF’s plans to evacuate settlements. In January 2014, he was held captive by Palestinian villagers for more than two hours, along with several other settlers who had been with him at the time of an alleged attempted “price tag” attack. He has been living in Safed for the last six months after authorities ordered him to stay away from the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In the last few days a document has emerged that Ettinger allegedly wrote outlining an action plan for overthrowing the state of Israel.
According to media reports, Ettinger wrote that “it’s a lot cheaper and faster to destroy the State of Israel and rebuild than to repair it.”
“If we see that there is a government that gets in the way of carrying out our mission,” Ettinger reportedly wrote, “we must think about how to overthrow the regime that interferes with the rebuilding of the Temple, that stands in the way of the true and complete redemption. “
The document also reportedly calls on activists to exploit the state’s weak points, “areas where they walk on eggshells so as not to spark riots. What we will do is simply ignite all these powder kegs, all the questions and contradictions between Judaism and democracy, between the Jewish character of the state and the secular character, without fearing the results.”
According to Ettinger’s lawyer, all of his writings are posted on his blog.
Zemer says that Ettinger has never been involved in violent activity and that he believes “the main reason they arrested him is because of his blog.”
A perusal of Ettinger’s blog shows no evidence of the document calling for a revolt. Instead, there are expressions of dismay at Israel’s multicultural character that fall short of explicit calls to violence.
“As is well known,” he writes, “the State of Israel does not follow the Torah and prefers assimilation to inheritance of the land. We must understand that…the closer we bring the conflict the better it will be for the people of Israel and the land of Israel. Everyone will find many ways to wake people up and act and explain why the land should be left exclusively for Jews.”
The family connection
Despite being the grandson of radical right-wing activist Meir Kahane, whose Knesset party Kach was outlawed in 1988 on grounds of incitement to racism against non-Jews and negation of the State of Israel’s legitimacy, Ettinger reportedly sparred with his parents over his growing radicalism.
Ettinger’s father Mordechai Ettinger, who has taught at the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, which is politically aligned with the state, told Israel’s Channel 10 that he was very upset about the direction his son has taken: “[Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh] drew him into such terrible things. We love our son and of course we wish he would return to the decent path.”
The Times of Israel contacted Mordechai and Tova Ettinger on Wednesday but the suspect’s mother said, “We’re not talking to the media. I’m sure you can understand.”
The young Ettinger started his career as a hilltop youth in the outpost at Ramat Migron that was ultimately evacuated by the IDF. He was among the infiltrators of Joseph’s Tomb near Nablus in 2011 despite explicit IDF orders to stay away. Around this time, he met students from the “Od Yosef Hai” yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar and subsequently studied there under Rabbi Ginsburgh, an American-born graduate of the University of Chicago who advocates restoring the Israelite kingdom and has written a pamphlet that justified Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 mass murder of 29 Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
According to Shin Bet officials quoted in Hebrew media, Ettinger has continued to radicalize and was involved in the group that was behind June’s arson of the Church of Loaves and Fishes.
He was remanded in custody until at least Sunday in a closed-door hearing in Upper Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday. If necessary, he may be held without trial, under administrative detention, a Channel 2 report said Tuesday night.
Referring to the charges of Jewish terrorism, Ettinger writes in his blog, “There is no terror organization but there are lots and lots of Jews, more than you think, whose hierarchy of values is completely different from that of the High Court of Justice or the Shin Bet. The laws that obligate them are not the laws of the state.”
Speaking to Army Radio following Ettinger’s arrest, his aunt, Nitza Kahane, said that the arrest was made for public relations purposes.
“I think the fact that he is Rabbi Kahane’s grandson was a much deeper motivation than any shred of information that they have.”
Kahane also said that her nephew’s views are legitimate.
“He wants to change the laws of the country to the laws of the Torah; that’s his right. If he persuades enough people, he can do it. The fact that someone wants to change the laws or wants the state to conduct itself differently has never been a cause for arrest in a democratic country.”