Cablegate: One Nation, Many Roadmaps -- The Aftermath of the Merkaz

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1. (SBU) The 7-day mourning period for eight yeshiva students
gunned down by an East Jerusalem Palestinian was fraught with
controversy which exacerbated the already deep divisions in Israeli
society over the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel Television
reported that unnamed yeshiva students had been given the "blessing"
of a leading rabbi to avenge the deaths by targeting Palestinians.
According to the unconfirmed report, "Israeli security is monitoring
developments." Rabbis at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and the political
leadership of the National Religious Party with which it is
identified fiercely denied the allegations, demanding that the
security establishment arrest suspects, or leave the mourners in
peace. Within hours, the Minister of Internal Security had announced
that neither the police nor the ISA had any knowledge of a plot to
avenge the terror attack. The media continue to investigate the
initial reports in an atmosphere of national divisiveness which some
commentators liken to that which preceded the 1995 assassination of
Prime Minister Rabin. Prime Minister Olmert reportedly was given to
understand he would be unwelcome at Merkaz Harav, and did not pay a
condolence call, while Education Minister Yuli Tamir, a Peace Now
founder, was jostled and cursed as a "murderer" when she tried to
pay her respects. Speaking at a news conference, the Merkaz Harav
Yeshiva head declared, "The people expect a change and this is the
time for it... the Torah is our Roadmap." End Summary and


2. (SBU) Most analysts believe that the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva was
chosen as a target because of its symbolic importance as the
ideological flagship of the pro-settlement religious Zionist
movement. The Yeshiva was founded in the early twentieth century and
inspired by the legendary Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook's teachings,
which are preserved in the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva. Before the
establishment of Israel, Rabbi Kook sought to reconcile Orthodox
Judaism and Zionism. His followers came to regard the establishment
of the State of Israel as a modern miracle resulting from divine
intervention. This conviction was further strengthened by Israel's
1967 victory, following which this Yeshiva, which was initially the
only religious Zionist Yeshiva in the country, inspired the first
settlers from Gush Emunim and the Land of Israel movement. It
viewed the 1967 capture of the West Bank -- "Judea and Samaria" --
as the fulfillment of their dream to reclaim the Biblical promised

3. (SBU) The Rabbis of the religious Zionist movement initially
revered Israel's elected political leadership, and for a time much
of Israel's secular political class and intelligentsia similarly
admired the commitment and dedication of the young men with "knitted
skullcaps." Divisions between the government and the religious
Zionist movement have deepened over the years, however, as the Oslo
Process and the Declaration of Principles with the PLO expressed the
GOI's commitment to eventual withdrawal from occupied territories.
Many Israelis blamed the rabbis of the religious Zionist movement
for inciting the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, while the religious
Zionist movement felt betrayed by their old ally and political
mentor Ariel Sharon's decision to uproot settlements and withdraw
from Gaza. A journalist with strong connections to the religious
Zionist movement wrote in Ha'aretz this week that members of that
movement felt that Israeli society was not shaken by the murder of
the yeshiva students in the same way that it would have been shaken
by a similar attack on a secular university campus. The mutual
alienation between this once-influential segment of Israeli society
and the rest of the country is deep, growing and potentially


4. (SBU) In the aftermath of the massacre, one of the first public
figures to visit the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and pay her respects was
Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik [Kadima] whom rabbis at the Yeshiva
pressed with demands for the dismantling of the mourning tent set up
by the slain attacker's family, which was decorated with Hamas and
Hizballah flags. Itzik agreed that not only should the tent be
dismantled but the family home should be demolished. Demands for the
dismantling of the tent proliferated across the public and political
spectrum after it was reported by the Israeli media that the
Jordanian authorities had denied the family permission to erect a
mourners' tent in Jordan. Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter
[Kadima] told the Yeshiva rabbis during his visit that the tent
could not be dismantled because it could not be proved that it was
being used by a terrorist organization. This was despite the fact
that Hamas and Hizballah flags were being flown around the tent,

TEL AVIV 00000614 002 OF 002

antagonizing mainstream as well as national-religious Jewish
sentiment. While the police eventually took down the offending
flags, they withheld Abu Dheim's body for nearly a week out of for
fear that the funeral would provide a platform for incitement on
both sides.

5. (SBU) While most Israelis expected the Prime Minister to make a
prompt condolence visit, days passed without one and the media
swiftly dug up various versions of the "story," all of which pointed
to a profound breakdown in communication between the Prime
Minister's office and Merkaz Harav. Regardless of his reason for
staying away, Olmert's absence was noted and resented by people who
expected the PM to pay due respect to the victims. Olmert was left
delivering a pro forma tribute to the "flagship of religious
Zionism" at the regular weekly cabinet meeting.


6. (SBU) It appears that the animosity directed at PM Olmert for
failing to prevent the attack or visit the Yeshiva in its aftermath
was not extended to cabinet ministers Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz,
both of whom paid condolence calls at the Yeshiva without incident.
However, the students of Merkaz Harav violated the school's
disciplinary codes when Education Minister Yuli Tamir [Labor], who
was visiting the neighboring youth Yeshiva, tried to pay her
respects. Tamir was jostled, cursed and reportedly kicked in the
back before being rushed away by police. The minister, who is a
founder of Peace Now, was greeted with cries of "murderer" and
"criminal," and received by far the worst treatment of any official
visitor so far. Her political background, the fact that she is a
woman, and the fact that her visit was apparently not coordinated
with the Rabbis of Merkaz Harav, all contributed to her poor
treatment. In its wake, a Labor party colleague, Binyamin Ben
Eliezer, warned that such conduct could lead to another political
assassination. Only last year, Ben Eliezer disclosed that he had
tried to warn Prime Minister Rabin a few weeks before his
assassination of the likelihood of an attack in the prevailing
political climate, but that Rabin had dismissed the warning saying
he "knew his people."

7. (SBU) Responding to reports that Yeshiva students -- not
necessarily those of Merkaz Harav -- had been "authorized" by
unnamed Rabbis to avenge the killings by targeting Palestinian
figures, Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter [Kadima] informed
the Knesset that neither the police nor the ISA (Shin Bet) had any
information to this effect. This did not calm the atmosphere in the
Israeli Arab sector where media reports continued to appear
regarding alleged threats of violence from unidentified right-wing
extremist groups. MK Zevulun Orlev, who heads the National Religious
Party, demanded that the police arrest their suspects or make it
clear they had none. By week's end no arrests had been made, no
incidents reported and the general rhetoric at the closing ceremony
for the end of the 7-day mourning period at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva
was decidedly low-key.


8. (SBU) The initial shock created by the targeting of the Merkaz
Harav Yeshiva has yet to subside. Not only was the national
religious camp within Israel unprepared for such a body-blow, but
media reports, not necessarily accurate, continue to inflame the
emotions of those most closely involved. In the immediate future, we
expect the more-or-less constant threat of possible right-wing
violence against Palestinians in the West Bank or East Jerusalem to
be heightened by the retaliatory instinct of those seeking revenge
for the Merkaz Harav killings.


© Scoop Media

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