A young Israeli believed by local authorities to the leader of a dangerous network of right-wing Jewish extremists was arrested on Monday night with unclear charges. The arrest immediately followed a decision by Israel’s security cabinet to endow local law enforcement with the power of “administrative detention,” or the ability to indefinitely detain Israeli citizens suspected of acts of terrorism without trial and access to legal assistance. On Tuesday, an Israeli court ordered him to be held until Sunday.
The detained man is Meir Ettinger, 23, the grandson of Meir Kahane, an Israeli militant and founder of the far-right group the Jewish Defense League, who was assassinated by an Egyptian-American citizen in a Manhattan hotel in 1990. According to The New York Times, Ettinger “was described by Israeli news organizations as the most-wanted figure by the Jewish division of the Shin Bet,” the Israeli internal security agency. This reputation was garnered because of Ettinger’s prominence as an activist for Israeli settler’s rights. According to The Times of Israel Ettinger has been “instrumental” in establishing of a series of illegal settler outposts over the past few years, and has been linked by Shin Bet to a number of the violent “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and their property.
Shin Bet has connected Ettinger with the torching of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes that happened in June. Last week, Shin Bet revealed that two suspects had been indicted with the crime and that they were part of an extremist organization known as the “hilltop youth.” Shin Bet believes Ettinger heads the organization. Ettinger also blogs for the far-right Israeli website Hakol Hayehudi (translated quotes from a post about Shin Bet can be found here via The Jerusalem Post, and another about Israeli politician Tzipi Livni here) and has reportedly published information on how to carry out “price tag” attacks. He was also banned from entering the West Bank for a year starting in March.
Although Ettinger was arrested last night it remains unclear as to whether he is connected to the firebomb attack on two Palestinian homes that resulted in the death of baby boy in the West Bank village of Duma. A day prior to the attack, Ettinger denied his involvement in “price tag” attacks in a post on Hakol Hayehudi: “The truth must be told—there is no terror organization, but there are a whole lot of Jews, a lot more than people think, whose value-system is completely different than that of the High Court or the Shin Bet, and who are not bound by the laws of the state, but by much more eternal laws, true laws.”
According to The New York Times, Ettinger’s lawyer Yuval Zemer has criticized Shin Bet, arguing that the arrest is a PR move, a desperate attempt by Israeli authorities to demonstrate that something is being done to remedy the tragedy produced by the attacks last week. “What could be better than the [arrest of the] No. 1 person of interest?” Zemer asked Israeli Army Radio.
The Israeli government is currently under intense pressure to combat acts of terrorism committed by its own citizens. According to The Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced at the weekly cabinet meeting: “We are determined to vigorously fight manifestations of hate, fanaticism and terrorism from whatever side… Our policy toward these crimes is zero tolerance.” Detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial is a tactic usually exclusive to Palestinians, however extending the legislation to Israeli citizens is reportedly part of a new “anti terror bill” that is currently being drafted.
Yesterday, the Jerusalem Post also reported that harsh interrogation methods will now be used on Israeli and Palestinian terrorism suspects in equal measure. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that a tactic known as tiltul which involves heavy shaking of the suspect will be employed more inclusively. “What the security cabinet told the security services yesterday was that any method is kosher,” Erdan said.