Israel’s Homegrown Taliban: Rise of the Utra Far-Right in the Apartheid State

Israel’s Homegrown Taliban: Rise of the Ultra Far-right in the Apartheid State

Syed Sharfuddin*

Israel’s population comprises two races: the Jewish race, and Palestinian Arabs. It is a democracy but a democracy only for the Jews. It is a country where the rules are set for a minority to rule the majority. The Jewish community in Israel is broadly divided into four categories: the ultra-orthodox Jews, religious Zionists, traditional Jews, and secularists. When the State of Israel was formed in 1949 under the British Mandate, it was the only country in the world that was created by giving a stateless minority self-rule in a foreign colony whose original populace was never given sovereignty. But those whole ruled Israel then were secular Jews who were sensitive to international reaction, eager for recognition, prepared for negotiations and treated local Arabs as potential partners in a pluralistic community. In the sixth decade after the creation of Israel which witnessed three Arab-Israeli wars and several armed conflicts with many extinct and existing Palestinian militant resistance groups, Israel is no longer the State the world knew and expected to see after the Oslo Peace Accords. Today, Israel has been hijacked by its own brand of fiery Taliban who have the voting power to make or bring down a coalition government. Their doctrine rests on ethnic cleansing of Arabs and a permanent division between the Israelis and Palestinians. For them, the genocide of Palestinians is kosher as long as it leads to the establishment of

the Kingdom of Judea. Their intolerance to external criticism of their ideology is so strong that even the UN Secretary-General gets told that his staff will not be given visas to enter Israel when he makes a statement in the UN that “Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation” in Israel.

Religious nationalism in Israel has gained momentum since the beginning of this century, forcing the ruling Likud party to align with extremist views. Likud was formed in 1973 out of a rainbow alliance of right, left, liberal, nationalist, and labour parties but after coming to power in 1977, it became a right wing party, collaborating with  far-right parties several times to form many coalition governments in Israel that made it possible for Benjamin Netanyahu to remain Prime Minister for 15 years over 38 governments.

Liberal and secular parties representing Reform Jews and democrats are now considered dangerous for Jewish identity. As a result of Likud’s accommodation of far-right parties, anti-Arab feeling has gained ground in the Israeli public. The military is directly involved with the far-right communities in guarding their settlements to consolidate the occupation. A third of Israeli soldiers vote for the settler parties. Far-right parties and groups are active in nominating their own candidates for the Knesset or supporting those candidates who endorse their Apartheid narrative. They include, among others, the Otzma Yehudit Party which calls for the deportation of Palestinian Arabs, the Religious Zionism Party which draws support from the Jewish hardliners in the settlements, Lehava Party which works for the prevention of assimilation of  Palestinian Arabs in the holy land, La Familia Club of Jerusalem’s Beitar Soccer team that touts slogans like ‘death to Arabs’ and ‘your village should burn’, the far-right HaBayit HaYehudi Party, National Union Party, and the New Right Party which champion the principle of greater land of Israel, support the policy of building new settlements in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish name for West Bank, and call on the Israeli State to pursue an aggressive security policy. Over time, these parties and groups have also become sophisticated in their message and methods. Instead of chanting the slogan: ‘death to the Arabs’, they now chant ‘death to terrorists’, equating all Palestinians as terrorists. Earlier, they were told by their leaders how to challenge the system that prevents the settling of the land and its Jewish identity without crossing the red line. Now that red line has disappeared.

Extremist Public Attitudes

Israel has the worst Apartheid system in the world which is based not only on race but also on religion. Continuous migration of Ashkenazi Jews from the US and Europe to Israel, helped by the expansion of illegal settlements in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) is changing the ethnic demography of Israel. The strategy of Jewish extremists to have their narrative accepted by the Jewish mainstream society is based on different footholds. These include showing them as victims of terrorist acts perpetrated by Palestinians and their representative organisations; political activism to increase the right-wing parties’ vote-bank in the national elections; getting Knesset to pass discriminatory laws that exclude Palestinians from the protection of the State; devolving powers from the central government to local councils in the OPTs to manage and administer the settlements; and getting far-right legislators appointed to cabinet positions to fast track their agenda.

The Israeli Apartheid system rests on a discriminatory legal system and generates a vicious cycle of provocation by illegal appropriation of Arab lands, provoking Palestinian militant resistance, slapping further restrictions in response, and building more settlements in the OPTs. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that is tasked with the responsibility of facilitating the change of status quo to the advantage of settler communities in the OPTs has been promised that its soldiers will be provided land in the West Bank on retirement.

The far-right groups consider the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords as a betrayal of Israel’s ideology because these international agreements concede the return of land in the OPTs to Arabs. A demonstration of their violent reaction to the Accords was the killing of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir in 1995.

The European settlers in the OPTs are more religious than Israel’s Mizrahis (Sephardic Jews). They are fully observant orthodox Jews and firm believers in the Zionist ideology.  They were radicalised during the last two Palestinian Intifadas. They were led to believe that if they did not defend themselves, the State will not come to their rescue. They adopted the tactics of Irgun, the pre-independent underground clandestine Jewish movement against the British, by harassing the Palestinian Arabs through sabotage, spray painting offensive slogans, slashing car tyres, smashing wind screens and pelting stones on Muslim houses in East Jerusalem and other cities and Arab neighbourhoods in OPTs. Twenty years on, their tactics have become more hostile. They call Palestinian Arabs terrorists, desecrate mosques, insult Islam, celebrate the murder of Palestinians, favour religious segregation, campaign not to have their kids taught by Arab teachers, and discourage their sons and daughters to befriend Palestinian children. They harbour Kahanist ideology of driving Palestinian Arabs away from OPTs by keeping them on the edge and making life difficult for them at every step.

The Anti assimilation campaign actively pursued by an organisation, Lehava, rests on the philosophy that ‘there can’t be pollution of the sacred Jewish seed’ by Arab men. Lehava opposes marriage between Palestinian and Israeli couples and considers it a betrayal if a Jewish woman takes a Palestinian husband in marriage.

Hardened settlers in the West Bank who are known as Hilltop Youth are not only intolerant of the Arabs, but also of secular Jews, Christians, and gays. They throw eggs at gay pride parades. They attract media headlines by holding summer camps, war memorials, offensive protests, and spray painted anti-Arab slogans. Their activities are supported by populist politicians. Over the years the ultra-right parties have been successful in drawing the centre-right to agree with their thinking. The rise of social media also helps them spread their message of hatred against Arabs to the mainstream Israeli public.  There have been recorded instances of far-right bands raiding Arab homes in OPTs and separating Arab women and children from their mem suspected of being terrorists. Their babies are then taken away and given to foster parents who give them Jewish surnames which are not in the system.    

In 2022 it was estimated that 30 percent of the Israeli Jewish population is made up of ultra-orthodox and ardent national-religious groups. This is also the largest section of the population that has a high demographic trend. These extremists are not apologetic about practicing Jewishness and believing that Arabs have no place in Palestine. In the settlements there is restriction on Arabs who cannot use their roads, nor are allowed to build a house. The extremists move in their own circles where their anti-Arab sentiments are endorsed and nurtured. They often marry a person who is more radical than them. This group of population is not afraid to occupy illegal outposts in OPTs and start a community even if the government has not given formal approval. When a few families start building houses, the government approves all unauthorised construction in the settlements and outfits while expropriating Palestinian land. It posts soldiers to protect new construction and a new community starts growing. Any Arab reprisal against illegal settlements is met by force by the Israeli army, who put barbed wire and check points around it.

In the OPTs Israeli law applies only to Israeli citizens. When a new Jewish settlement is officially established in OPTs, Palestinian Arabs are forbidden to drive into them. They are not allowed to walk on the ‘sterile’ paths reserved for the Jews. They have their own unpaved roads which are strewn with potholes and garbage. Every time there is a local Arab uprising against injustice and inequal treatment, Israeli military shuts down Palestinian shops and markets for days resulting in some more Arab businessmen going bankrupt. In the past the initiative to protest rested with the Arabs. They chose the place and time to organise a demonstration. With the passage of time, this initiative is now passed on to the Israelis. They choose the time and place to come down on the Palestinian Arabs. Any foreign journalist who takes a video of an IDF raid in an Arab quarter is either beaten up by soldiers or his videos are deleted, and he is told to leave the place.

Israeli Taliban are unapologetic religious zealots. They recruit young Israeli men and women in the OPTs telling them the horrible things Nazis did to the Jews in the Holocaust. They use Palestinian militant attacks as evidence of anti-Semitism and convince them that it is alright for them to harm Arabs to save their religion and their race. Ayelet Shaked, a member of the far-right orthodox nationalist HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) Party who was elected to Knesset in 2013 and appointed Minister of Justice in 2015, called all Palestinians in the OTPs enemies of Israel and branded their children as little snakes. She was an advocate for deporting African migrants and defended Netanyahu government’s policy of detaining them in a Negev facility. She justified bombing civilians when they give shelter to ‘evil’.

Israeli Taliban call Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision in 2005 to unilaterally pull out of the Gaza Strip a disaster. They advocate that Israeli army march into Gaza and take over the Strip and transfer all Palestinians living there to Egypt’s Sinai desert. For the settlers, the argument of Palestinians belonging to Israel is a non-starter. For them, Israel is their ancestral land ruled by Kings David and Solomon. Palestinians came to Israel as a result of the colonial settlements started by the Turkish Ottomans. As Palestinians are not the original inhabitants of Israel, they should leave Palestine and resettle in Arab countries.

It is ironical that the far-right Jews do not consider themselves extremists. Their narrative is religious and nationalist. They see nothing wrong pursuing their goals. They regard Palestinian Arabs in the Knesset such as Ahmed Tibi as terrorists. They also consider Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmood Abas as a terrorist and refer to him not by his name but as Abu Mazin.

Israeli Taliban want to establish a cultural authority in which everything is done in accordance with the Talmudic tradition. They view the presence of Palestinian Arabs in OPTs as an obstacle to reaching their goal. This is only realisable when Israeli settlements grow to the point there are no Palestinian lands to be taken over from them. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said no international or bilateral agreement prevents Israel from building Jewish settlements in OPTs. He has the support of the US and other Western powers, who want Israel to take more Jewish refugees fleeing the Ukraine war. Given the anti-Palestine public opinion in Israel and the strategy of the settlers to make their country ultra-Jewish, there is no chance of any free Palestinian State. At present, two third of the Israelis are against it and this percentage is likely to increase in in the future.

Apartheid Laws

Israel’s has passed several laws that discriminate against the Palestinian Arabs and consolidate the Apartheid State’s hold on the OPTs in total disregard of Israel’s international obligations.

The first of the discriminatory laws that affected the properties and businesses of Palestinian Arabs was the Jerusalem Law of 1950 that proclaimed the Israeli held Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In 1967 the Knesset annexed 17,400 acres of East Jerusalem administered by Jordan to define the new boundaries of the holy city. In 1970 Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the division of Jerusalem’s boundaries by any foreign country or administration. In 1980 the Knesset declared the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These laws were passed after the victory of Israel in 1948, 1973 and 1974 wars, even though the UN declared these enactments illegal.

What has prevented Israeli leaders from taking over the control of Al-Aqsa mosque is the fear of of Muslim countries who may not accept it at any cost. Israeli government allows Muslim Arabs to pray at the Aqsa Mosque, but it allows Israeli Jews to only visit the Temple Mount but not pray there to prevent a clash between Arabs and Muslims. However, Muslims are regularly subjected to security checks and harassment by Israeli military at the Al Aqsa Mosque. This year the IDF entered Al Aqsa mosque several times and an ultra, right-wing Minister also visited the Temple Mount heightening tensions between Muslims and Jews. Recent court cases of violation of the prohibition of Jewish prayer have cast doubt on the ability of Israeli police to legally prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount. If the Israeli government continues to give into the demands of its fundamentalist Jews, who have acquired political power to form coalition governments, it will not be far-fetched to assume that sometime in the future, Israel would follow the example of India’s Babri Masjid and initiate a court case to return the holy site of the Muslims to the Jews for establishing the Jewish prayer and commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a lamb on the holy site on Passover as a sign of the rebuilding of the promised Temple of Solomon. Such an action could cause a rage at the UN and the entire Islamic world which would find it impossible to accept the fall of Islam’s third holiest site, the sacred place of the prophets and the place of Prophet Muhammad’s divine travel to the Heavens.

Israeli legal system favours Jews at the expense of Arab Muslims. It is not possible to provide an alternative narrative of the history of Israel other than what is officially provided. The injustices carried out by the Israelis when Palestinians were expelled and deported from their ancestral lands in 1947-48, what is known as the Palestinian Nakba, have no place in Israel’s revised history. To remember these events is a crime. Acknowledging these implies acceptance of the moral obligation of Israel to grant the right of return to the Palestinian refugees to the country of their origin.

Israel’s Nakba Law which was enacted in 2011 aims to exclude the Palestinian version of Israel’s history from public discourse. Under this law it a crime to remember the Palestinian victimisation as a form of incitement against the State. The Nakba Law silences the alternative narrative of Israel’s history by giving the State the right to declare any Palestinian a traitor for raising public awareness of the historical facts about displacement of Arabs to accommodate Jewish settlers.

In 2003 Knesset voted a Marriage Law that barred Arabs who marry Israelis from acquiring residency status or becoming Israeli citizens. This law was renewed in 2022 and again in 2023. This law ensures the separation of Palestinians inside Israel from those living in the OPTs. Despite the criticism by human rights organisations, Israeli government openly claims that it is one of the tools to ensure a Jewish majority in the nation-state of the Jewish people.

In 2011 Israel passed a Judisation and Exclusion Law that allowed small communities in Negev and Galilee to set up admission committees that rated applicants on socio-cultural compatibility to qualify for admissions in schools. In July 2023 Knesset passed another law expanding the Admission Committees to operate in large towns outside Negev and Galilee. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel calls these laws discriminatory and amounting to denying the right of education to Palestinian children.

The passage of the Nation State Law in 2018 further took away the legal rights of Palestinians to protest the continuation of illegal Israeli settlements on Arab lands. This law enshrines Israel as the national home of the Jewish people, fulfilling the hope expressed in the national anthem of Israel which states: “Our hope is not yet lost, the age-old hope to return to the land of our ancestors, to the city in which David dwelled.” The Nation State Law recognised the exercise of natural self-determination as the exclusive right of the Jewish people. It granted the status of national value to the establishment of Jewish settlements in OPTs and mandated the State to provide labour to encourage it and practice its establishment and development. The law also declared Hebrew as the official language of Israel. Adopting the value of Zionism under this law obliges civil servants to prioritise Jewish citizens and stigmatise Palestinian Arabs as second class citizens.

The Nation State Law defines who is a friend and has a right to live in Israel and who is a licenced worker or a second class citizen. It is a racist law because it protects only Israelis belonging to the Jewish faith and Jewish race.

In February 2023 Knesset approved a law to revoke the citizenship or permanent residency of a Palestinian who is sentenced to imprisonment due to an act of terror or treason or who receives payments from the PA. This law specially targets Palestinian Arabs living in East Jerusalem.

Ultra-orthodox Jewish groups such as the Yeshivas and Heradis have enjoyed exemption from mandatory military service which was made obligatory for Israeli citizens through the 1949 Defence Service Law. These exemptions are allowed under the principle of ‘Torato Omanuto’, which means ‘his Torah is his occupation’. The government now intends to introduce a Basic Law of Torah Study as a core value of the State. There have been legal challenges to the Yeshiva exemptions, but no one has questioned the exemptions of Arab citizens from performing military or national service in Israel wither in Knesset or before the courts.

The far-right groups do not believe in democracy, equality of races, and freedom of expression but use these platforms when it suites them. They use violence, intimidation, propaganda, and play the victim-card to advance their agenda of establishing Jewish authority and ownership of greater Israel.

Since coming to power in December 2022 the most far-right government in the history of Israel, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, has unveiled an ambitious programme of judicial, media and police reforms, with a view to curtailing the separation of powers and civil liberties.

Knesset wants to curtail the power of the Supreme Court to exercise judicial review of basic laws, ordinary laws, and override clauses. It also wants to change the composition of the judicial appointment committee.

Under media reform, Knesset is discussing legislation that will give Israel’s Cable and Satellite Council and the Second Authority Council total control of broadcast content and encourage broadcasting of certain content by media outlets to the Israeli public.

Under police reform, Knesset is discussing bills that seek to allow political considerations to influence police investigation and empower police to impose severe restrictions on detainees for long periods as a condition for their release from detention without indictment. This will enable the police to keep Palestinian suspects under detention for long periods even if they are innocent.

Several bills are under discussion that seek to amend the anti-terrorism law that will outlaw display of Palestinian flag, and printing of Palestinian emblem in Israel. This will also cover educational institutions and remove those students who support terror or discuss an act of terror by a terrorist organisation, such as Hamas.

Another bill is under discussion which will create an Authority for the West Bank that will be empowered to demand information from Palestinians about their assets. It will have the authority to confiscate their assets and impose levies and fines. 

The new coalition government also created a separate, violent, and semi-civilian security force called the National Guard to deal with Arab unrest. The National Guard was placed under Ben-Gvir Itamar, Minister of National Security. His party, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) idealises extremist Kahanist ideology that rejects co-existence and calls for transferring all Arabs out of Israel. This ideology was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane, who moved to Israel from Brooklyn, New York in 1971 and founded the extremist Kach party. His ideas were too radical for the secular and liberal Jews. Kach was banned in 1988 and Kahane was killed in Manhattan by an Egyptian American. Kahane argued that the idea of a democratic Jewish state was nonsense because the demographic trends would render the Jews of Israel a minority one day compared to the Palestinians. He therefore advocated for the transfer of Arabs who he compared to dogs. Either they live in Israel quietly or get the hell out of Israel. His ideology is becoming popular again among right wing Jewish political circles. Jewish extremists also visit the graves of other extremist settlers such as Baruch Goldstein who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.


The continued silence of the traditional friends of Israel in the West about the never ending new settlements policy and other measures taken by the Israeli Apartheid regime to transform a minority into a majority through illegal Arab displacements and discriminatory laws has enabled the ultra-far-right orthodox nationalist political parties and groups to increase their clout in Knesset, and squeeze the space previously occupied by the liberals and secularists. Most of these ultra-right wing zealots come from settler communities which are more radicalised and anti-Arab than their urban counterparts. They recruit political and religious activists from the traditionalist Jews and call for the removal of all Palestinians from OPTs. A discriminatory legal framework, absence of a free and independent Palestinian voice in the Israeli political system except the subdued PA, and the role of IDF in protecting the radical Jews militarily have created the perfect conditions for the hatching of a Nazi State of Jews which Israel intended to form in 1949 and still considers a project not yet finished. The next steps in the greater Israel plan are forced eviction of Palestinian Arabs from OPTs, including the Gaza Strip, giving gun licenses to all Israeli citizens for self-protection, cancelling all development schemes in the OPTs to make it hard for Palestinian Arabs to continue to live there in adversity and deprivation, and increasing the allocation of security funds for controlling terrorism and crime in the OPTs.

There is nothing wrong with the belief system of a community and what they fantasise about their future. It is the fundamental right of any community and even a cult to do so under freedom of belief. But it is the behaviour and action a community takes to practice that belief system that matters. Israel has pursued its nation-state goal by systematically curbing the civil and political rights of its Palestinian population for seventy five years and its response to Palestinian militancy in retaliation is always indiscriminate, disproportional and in violation of international norms of enemy combat. The October 2023 Israel-Gaza war has once again highlighted the danger of ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which carries the seeds of deep divisions between Islam and Judaism and pushing the region into a scary scenario of clash of civilisations.

*Syed Sharfuddin is a former Pakistani diplomat and a political analyst on Asia and the Middle East.

Additional Reading:

Ruth Margalit, Letter from Israel. The New Yorker, (20 February 2023)

Marwan Bishara, Israelis Need to see through the Biggest Lie of All” Aljazeera Op Ed. (March 2023),

Donald Ellis, Three Discursive Dilemmas for the Israeli Settlers, Discourse Studies (2014).

Report on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories Vol 6 No 6 ()

Akram Ezzamouri and Miriam Zenobio, Shifting Paradigms for Israel-Palestine: Why the EU must Answer the Wake-up Call Now (April 2023)

Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, “‘But If I Don’t Steal It, Someone Else Is Gonna Steal It’ – Israeli Settler-Colonial Accumulation by Dispossession”, in Middle East Report, No. 302 (Spring 2022),

Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians, Amnesty International (February 2022)

Yoav Kapshuk and Lisa Stömbom, Israeli pre Transitional Justice and the Nakba Law, Israel law Review 54 (3) (2021). Pages 305 to 323. Online Cambridge University Press Reprint.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Judah Ari Gross, The Times of Israel, 30 May 2022.

Naomi Zevelof. Can Ayelet Shaked Sell (Secular) Israel on the Far-right? Forward January 2015.

Shiraz Grinbaum. Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel (2016).

Monitoring Initiatives that Damage Human Rights and Democracy, Israel (August 2023). ACRI.AntiDemocraticLegislation.2023.August%20(2).pdf





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