A prominent rabbi popular among far-right settlement activists encouraged a “strong retaliatory act” in a lesson to students and followers, two days after Palestinian gunmen killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach on the road near his home in the Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank in early January.
In a recording aired by Army Radio on Wednesday, US-born Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, who heads a yeshiva in the hard-line West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, could be heard saying the best reaction to the attack was to engage in “protest.” He made the statements during a five-hour lesson to students at Pri Haaretz, a yeshiva for high school students in the settlement of Rehelim.
When asked what such “protest” entailed, the rabbi said that “in such cases there is one and only thing that can prevent [attacks] in the future… and that is a strong act of retaliation.”
Ginsburgh said the blame lay with the Israeli establishment, which he likened to a “horse” that, according to a biblical allegory, can easily be brought down by a single bite from a snake. In another part of his lesson, Ginsburgh said the government should be toppled, saying he “doesn’t want to hurt the people riding the horse, just the horse.”
“Our horse these days is cheapening Jewish blood, so we need to harm the horse,” he added. “To combat that, we need a Jew to ‘cheapen’ himself and his blood, out of solidarity, and whoever is ready to do that is the king.”
In a response to the airing of the recording, Ginsburgh’s office said Army Radio’s reporter had understood “the exact opposite” of the message the rabbi had been trying to convey. It said he wasn’t encouraging individuals to take retaliatory action, but rather that the state should take on that mission.
“As Rabbi Ginsburgh clarified in recent years, the necessary reform in security is the adoption of a brave and resolute policy by the State of Israel, stemming from a recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its own land,” sources close to the rabbi were quoted as saying.
“Unfortunately, the reporter took the statements out of context and chose to publish a biased, distorted and false report, despite matters being clarified to the reporter. It is regrettable that Army Radio is misdirecting the public and resorting to rabbi-bashing, inflaming hate and widening rifts within the nation.”
The sources said that Ginsburgh was merely saying that people should act to replace the government in elections. He had “emphasized that the executive should take decisive action, and that if the establishment isn’t doing its job the leadership should be replaced,” they said.
Critics blame Ginsburgh’s writings — including a pamphlet that praises Baruch Goldstein, a settler who killed 29 Muslim worshipers at a West Bank shrine in 1994 — for fueling attacks by extremist Jews against Palestinians and other non-Jews in Israel and the West Bank.
He came under fire for endorsing “The King’s Torah,” a 2009 book by firebrand rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. The book quotes religious sages as permitting, under certain conditions, the killing of non-Jews, including babies, “if there is a good chance they will grow up to be like their evil parents.” The book says the commandment “Thou shalt not murder” does not necessarily apply to non-Jews.
In defending the book its authors have said it should be seen as a purely theoretical work.
Ginsburgh has referred to Arabs as a “cancer,” a remark that led to him being charged with incitement, but never convicted.
However, Ginsburgh has in recent years largely rejected individual violent action.
There have been no significant revenge attacks against Palestinians following the killing of Shevach earlier this month.
At Shevach’s funeral, dozens of mourners interrupted Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s eulogy with calls for “revenge.” The Jewish Home party leader attempted to calm the crowd by saying that “the only revenge is to keep building” and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to legalize the outpost.
President Reuven Rivlin struck a slightly different chord during a condolence visit at the Shevach home, where he told the family that “the Land of Israel is built out of love, not vengeance.”
Responding to the president’s words, Shevach’s father, Moshe, said, “We do not care about vengeance. We want rebirth.”
Jacob Magid and AP contributed to this report.