Can Israel’s ‘New Right’ Turn West Bank Settlers Against Netanyahu?

Can Israel’s ‘New Right’ Turn West Bank Settlers Against Netanyahu?
Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly Cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2018 (AP photo by Abir Sultan).

ARIEL, West Bank—Itzik Ashkenazi first came to this settlement in the West Bank 20 years ago, drawn by the cheap housing and mountain views. On clear days, he can see the Mediterranean and the Israeli city of Tel Aviv in one direction, and the Palestinian city of Nablus in the other. The 50-year-old Ashkenazi, who works as an aide for senior citizens, often whiles away the afternoon with friends, chain-smoking, drinking beer and talking politics at a wobbly aluminum table next to a kiosk that sells snacks, cigarettes and alcohol.

This unremarkable lifestyle, Ashkenazi says, is the most potent antidote to the common stereotype of Israeli settlers as religious fanatics with yarmulkes on their heads and Uzis on their backs—a stereotype he says dominates the mainstream Israeli press. “They look at us and they see Yigal Amir!” he exclaimed during an interview last month, referring to the extremist West Bank settler who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv in 1995. Amir shot Rabin twice with a semiautomatic pistol—revenge, he said, for Rabin’s “treachery” of negotiating with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to hand over what he considered Jewish land to the Palestinians, a move many in the settler community view as a violation of the word of God.

Amir’s actions were “just wrong,” Ashkenazi told me. His friends—other working-class, middle-aged, longtime residents of Ariel—nodded enthusiastically in agreement. “Among us, we don’t have extremists, we don’t have people who do retaliations,” Ashkenazi said, claiming that while there may be some “bad apples” on the disputed land—which Palestinians envision as part of their future state—settlers in general are peace-loving people.

Listen to Shira Rubin discuss this article on WPR’s Trend Lines Podcast. Her audio starts at 23:25.

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