Watch out for Wolpo

By Jeremy Gillick

The right wing group SOS Israel, led by Rabbi Sholom Dov Wolpo, leader of Chabad’s messianic wing in Israel, has published the first in a series of English-language newsletters that includes a vaguely threatening message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and accuses him of selling out his nation and country to “High Commissioner Hussein Obama.”

The newsletter comes in advance of the 15th anniversary of Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s death.

The pamphlet includes an excerpt from an interview with 83-year-old Geulah Cohen, a former Knesset member who was an outspoken opponent of Ariel Sharon’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe warned Mr. Moshe Katsav 17 years ago…that he, personally will be the first to fight with all his forcefulness and might against Shamir so that his government will fall. The fact remains that any Prime Minister who has tampered with our inheritance of Eretz Yisroel has received his just desserts in a humiliating and painful fashion.

Being truly concerned for your future, we turn to you, Mr. Prime Minister, and advise you: do not tread on the path of your predecessors which caused danger to the residents of Eretz Yisroel and themselves. Whoever harms Eretz Yisroel is declaring an open war on Hashem and his Torah, with all the resulting consequences

It’s often said that giving publicity to extremist groups only furthers their agendas. Any publicity, after all, is good publicity. But keeping quiet about these groups also encourages ignorance, and can leave the public ill-equipped to cope with them. Especially at a time when the far-right in America is growing increasingly mainstream and violent–take, for example, the murders of Dr. George Tiller and an African-American guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC–it’s important to be wary of incitement.

Wolpo’s SOS Israel should be given special attention. Founded in 2003 “to oppose and fight the political accords with the Arabs that include land or security concessions,” SOS Israel is a U.S. and Israel-based non-profit that, as of recently, is also a political party in Israel: Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (Our Land of Israel). The party quickly teamed up with nationalist and Kahanist parties to form the National Union, an extreme right-wing alliance that won 4 seats in the recent Knesset elections (I haven’t seen official numbers, but according to one website, over 70 percent of Kfar Chabad residents voted for Eretz Yisrael Shelanu). In spite of SOS Israel’s transformation into a political party, the group continues to accept tax-deductible donations.

In the recent newsletter’s lead article, Wolpo calls Netanyahu “very, very, very bad for the Jews” and states that by “agreeing to a Palestinian state, the prime minister has “declared war against Hashem [God].” These comments might not qualify as incitement–though they certainly sound ominous to me–but it was this kind of invective that paved the way for Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. As the late, great political scientist Ehud Sprinzak explained, Rabin was the victim of a widespread and vicious character assassination campaign in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords. At the very least, Wolpo’s remarks help create an environment where what most Jews see as crazy-talk is completely acceptable.

It was one thing when Wolpo and his organization preached to their ideological base in Israel, but it’s another issue entirely for him to bring SOS Israel’s message to America. It’s fine if he wants to do it, but American Jews should let him know where they stand.
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