On February 26, 2023, Jewish settlers perpetrated a pogrom (stopping to pray in the middle) against the residents of Huwara, a Palestinian city in the Occupied Territories, critically injuring four and killing one Palestinian in a nearby village. The pogrom followed the killing of two Israeli settlers from Har Bracha the same day by an unidentified Palestinian attacker. One of the settlers killed had studied at the Yeshivat Hesder in Kiryat Shemona, the town local to me.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that Huwara should be wiped out. But the Israeli commander in charge of the area actually called the settler rampage a pogrom. Like the word occupation, and more recently apartheid, it is now acceptable to use pogrom in reference to Jewish perpetrators. Not an honorable achievement. On March 6, Ta’anit Esther, I participated in a small Rabbis for Human Rights delegation to Huwara. We toured the main street, I took pictures of burnt houses, cars and butterfly-decorated window grates, and we listened to a mother tell the story of being trapped with her sister and children for hours in their home while the fire raged outside and the smell of smoke wasn’t heavy in the living room like it was in the stairwell. We witnessed.
Huwara has legitimized speaking out against Jewish racism and supremacy at demonstrations to save Israel’s democracy. Both Shikma Schwartzman-Bressler, a physicist and one of the founders of the Black Flags Protest Movement, and former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon repeatedly use both terms and Ya’alon has been forceful in denouncing Ben Gvir for his racism. It has been a long time coming. Twenty years ago, the vast majority of students to whom I gave lectures on chosenness in various Jerusalem frameworks were unwilling to give up some version of the idea (despite the pretty solid text sheet I prepared). At least I thought then, and still think, that Kaplan is very convincing. But most also denied any connection between the idea of the chosen people, so deeply embedded in our sacred and ritual texts, and racist belief and action.
Contending with the ideas of Jewish superiority and chosenness often has the feel of theoretical luxury outside of Israel.