Mondoweiss / March 31, 2023
New Likud MK Avichai Buaron published an editorial in 2010 that supported extermination camps for “Amalekites,” a thinly-veiled euphemism for Palestinians.
Avichai Buaron is a radical right-wing activist who has been a leader of the movement to maintain the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, which is illegal even by Israeli law. This week Buaron became the newest member of the Israeli parliament in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, replacing lawmaker David Amsalem who resigned his seat to serve in the Justice Ministry. Buaron is notable because, as if his far right-wing advocacy wasn’t enough, in 2010 he published an editorial calling for “extermination camps” for Israel’s enemies.
Yes, you read right, extermination camps.
The editorial referenced support for extermination camps for “Amalekites,” a common Jewish euphemism. The Amalekites were a people often mentioned in the bible as bitter enemies of the Israelites, where in Deuteronomy the Israelite God commands to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” In contemporary Israel, it is widely understood that “Amalekites” are a reference to Palestinians.
With this in mind, we should look at Buaron’s (unsigned) 2010 editorial (reported in Haaretz), when he was chair of the religious-Zionist organization “Maaynei Hayeshua” (“Fountains of Redemption”), which printed pamphlets that were distributed freely in settlement synagogues.
The background for the pamphlet is of great importance. In 2010, the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu (together with 17 other prominent local rabbis), issued a ruling that Jews should deny sale or rent of property to Palestinians (Eliayahu has also been President of Maaynei Hayeshua since its inception in 2004). The rabbi’s ruling was later endorsed by dozens of rabbis, but also opposed by some more liberal ones. It is in response to the more liberal critics that Avichai Buaron’s editorial was issued.
Here is the critical part of the editorial, which appeared under the title “Men of Faith are Lost” in a section titled “career rabbis” and criticizes the liberal rabbis who opposed Shmuel Eliyahu’s injunction (my translation):
“True, there are also such people. Clerks. Those who do not want to disturb, who explain that ‘this is not really the Halacha’ [religious law], and also that ‘this is only one aspect’ and that ‘there are other rabbis who differ’ and that in short, the politically-correct is their daily bread… It is doubtful whether in the past they identified with the non-aesthetic call “whoever is for the Lord, come to me” [Exodus 32:26], it is doubtful whether they took part in our cultural struggles. It is doubtful whether they ever would. Is it interesting, whether they would leave the concentration of the Amalekites in extermination camps to others or perhaps rule that the existence of the Amalek is no longer relevant. Time will tell.”
Let us first decipher the biblically-related coded language, to be clear about the message’s meaning. Exodus 32 is a particularly bloody passage – where Moses told those who had heeded his call “come to me”:
“Each of you men is to fasten his sword to his side, go back and forth through the camp from gate to gate, and slay his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.”
So, Buaron was mocking these contemporary rabbis, for being ones who, if they had existed in Moses’ time, might not have heeded Moses’ call to stand with him and with God, and implicitly, might have hesitated in slaughtering their brothers, friends, and neighbors.
The part concerning the extermination camps for the Amaleklites is curious, because it uses contemporary terminology (“extermination camps”) and a future tense with the archaic use of Amalek – which suggests that Amalek is precisely a euphemism. The sentence mocking the rabbis for ruling that “the existence of Amalek is no longer relevant” emphasizes this – that the Amalekites exist in the form of Israel’s contemporary enemies. These are, of course, the Palestinians.
Avichai Buaron “systematically avoided responding” to the Haaretz article at the time, as they reported. But rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who had issued the original ruling against providing accommodation to Palestinians, which was at the core of this whole discussion, did respond to Haaretz (while emphasizing that he did not write the Maaynei Hayeshua article):
“I understood that it was a statement towards those rabbis, what they would do when called upon to exterminate the Amalek. Would you also then sit with folded arms? But because it was not correctly understood, a week later, an apology was issued. But some proportion. Extermination camps are not the wet dream of any one of us.”
Haaretz noted that the mentioned apology issued a week later “did not relate to the extermination camps or Amalekites, but only to the matter concerning the rabbis.”
Note also the present and future tense in Eliahu’s response: “when called upon” is not “if they were called upon.” The confusion of past and present in such advocacy is not incidental.
Calls to wipe out Palestinians
Buaron did not have to spell out that “Amalekites” referred to Palestinians. Jews know who the contemporary Amalekites are. Just like Eliyahu did not have to say Palestinians – “Arabs” means the same for these people. These are dog-whistles that are not subtle at all. Recently, the minister Bezalel Smotrich called for “wiping out” the Palestinian town of Huwwara, in revenge for a killing of two Jewish settlers that took place there. These sentiments are shared in Israeli discourse often.
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu’s call to deny accommodation to Palestinians in Safed had dire consequences. One example was when 89-year old Holocaust survivor Eli Zvieli was threatened with having his home burned down because he rented rooms for three Palestinian students (all Israeli citizens, to be clear). The Guardian reported Zvieli had notices pinned to his front door denouncing him as a traitor to Judaism. It is a concerted campaign of racist intimidation. Occasionally, as we have seen, these incitements manifest in extreme violence, and also cost lives.
It is sobering to think that Avichai Buaron is an ideological supporter of such an extreme Apartheid policy, and that he even took this belief to the level of genocidal advocacy. He was basically saying that rabbis who are critical, are a danger to us, since they would also hesitate in committing genocidal acts, which might be essential in the future.
It is also sobering to reflect, that Avichai Buaron is not a member of the furthest right-wing parties like Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism, or Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power – he is a member of Netanyahu’s more mainstream Likud – the largest party by far in Israeli politics.
What would a person like that do as a lawmaker? Time will tell.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark