JERUSALEM (Nov. 26)
Three leading activists of the anti-Arab Kach movement were detained for questioning Monday about recent incidents of arson and harassment of Jewish shopkeepers who employ Arabs.
Jerusalem police acted as the Knesset prepared to consider motions from both the left and right wings to outlaw Kach as a terrorist organization.
“We don’t have to tolerate racism in our streets,” Justice Minister Dan Meridor declared Monday after alluding to the Jewish experience of racism in the past.
The Kach movement, founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in New York on Nov. 6, is suspected of fanning Jewish vigilantism in Jerusalem.
Several shops where Arabs were employed have been gutted by fires of suspicious origin.
On Saturday, a group of Kach members returning from the Western Wall got into a brawl with Arab youths in the Old City. The police had to use force to break up the melee. An Arab shop was severely damaged.
The three taken into custody Monday are Noam Federman, Tiran Pollak and Baruch Merzel, all longtime leaders of Kach locally.
They are suspected of using intimidation and violence against shopkeepers who give jobs to Arabs. A number of shops around the city display signs reading, “No Arabs employed here.”
This has been greeted with anger and disgust by most of the political community.
SOME SHOPKEEPERS FIRED ARABS
Shopkeepers in the Bukharan Quarter and Geula, two large Orthodox districts close to the center of Jerusalem, confirmed they had been threatened by Kach activists.
Several told reporters they had complied with demands to fire their Arab workers. Others said they would if Kach provided Jewish replacements.
The owner of one burned-out shop said he was punished by unknown arsonists even after he fired his Arab employees.
Pollak denied in a radio interview that his group was responsible for the arson against two Jewish-owned shops in Jerusalem this week.
It was not the work of Kach, he said, but of “citizens” reacting to shops employing Arabs. He claimed his movement does not resort to violence but rather seeks “to persuade by gentle means” that Jews should not employ Arabs.
Observers here say the Kach activists are exploiting the residue of fear and anger that has hung over the city since an Arab day-laborer fatally stabbed three Jewish residents of the Baka neighborhood on Oct. 21.
That incident was followed by a spate of seemingly random attacks on Jews in the streets by knife-wielding Arabs.
Knesset member Binyamin Begin of Likud introduced an urgent motion Monday deploring the situation, which he called a cancer eating into the fiber of Israeli democracy.
Amnon Rubinstein of the Center-Shinui Movement entered a motion of his own chastising the police for “inexplicable indifference” to the intimidation campaign.
Police officials maintain they are taking the latest developments seriously and have beefed up patrols in areas where shops were threatened by vigilantes.
Meir Tsaban of Mapam, the United Workers Party of Israel, said shopkeepers putting up “No Arabs Here” signs could be prosecuted under existing legislation.
Tsaban also said Kach fits the definition of a terrorist organization and should be outlawed under emergency regulations. The regulations define a terrorist organization as one that uses force or threats of force to advance political ends.
Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement sent an open letter to the justice minister, in which he spoke of the “crystal fragile” situation in Jerusalem and expressed hope that no “night” was in store for the city.
His was a thinly veiled allusion to Kristallnacht, the Nazis’ first organized pogrom against German Jews in November 1938.