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March 06, 1994|Yossi Melman | Yossi Melman, an Israeli journalist, is the co-author of "Friends in Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israeli Alliance," due out next month from Hyperion

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — Dr. Baruch Goldstein was not an exception. The Jewish settler who systematically massacred more than 40 Palestinians as they prayed at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron was preceded by Elliot Goodman and Craig Laitner.

In April, 1982, Goodman, of Tenefly, N.J., stormed into the El Omar mosque on Mount Temple in Jerusalem and fired into a Palestinian crowd. Miraculously, "only" two worshipers were killed and 11 wounded. Two years later, Laitner and three colleagues, all from Jewish neighborhoods in New York, opened fire on a bus carrying Palestinian workers near the same city. Five were injured.

The Israeli authorities treated both men harshly. Goodman was sentenced to life. Laitner, who escaped to the United States but was later extradited, was convicted by an Israeli court and sentenced to several years in jail.

Still, successive Israeli governments, including the present one, regarded these incidents as isolated, refusing to admit they were products of a larger psychological environment--the Jewish settlers' movement that had nourished Palestinian hatred.

The Israeli government is now paying the price of this accommodating attitude toward Jewish extremism. The Goldstein massacre has temporarily stalled peace talks between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Unrest in the occupied territories is on the rise. And Jewish settlers are resisting the government's efforts to disarm the most violent among them.

Goldstein's attack shares much in common with the preceding two. The perpetrators wore, for disguise, Israeli army uniforms and used automatic rifles originally issued by the army for self-defense. They were all settlers on the West Bank. All were American Jews who had emigrated to Israel. And all drew their inspiration from the Kach movement and its leader, Meir Kahane.

Kach, which means "this is the way" or "thus" in Hebrew, is another Israeli import from the United States. It was founded, in 1973, by Kahane, who first gained prominence in America when he established the Jewish Defense League in the late 1960s. When tensions increased between blacks and Jews in Queens and Brooklyn, Kahane and his small group of followers distributed weapons to Jews and organized armed patrols to protect them. His slogan was "Never Again."

Soon, however, the JDL evolved into a group of Jewish vigilantes and thugs who used guns, explosives and threats of violence against anyone they considered an enemy of Jews, including liberal Jews.

A growing embarrassment to the Jewish mainstream Establishment and to U.S. law-enforcement agencies, Kahane was persuaded to emigrate to Israel.

In Israel, Kahane and his followers received a mixed reception. The majority of Israelis abhorred Kahane's politics of racism. Several right-wing politicians, however, found his preaching useful, even enticing. Unconfirmed reports tied right-wing Israeli businessmen--including Yitzhak Shamir before he became prime minister--to efforts to smuggle arms to Kahane's U.S.-based JDL.

When Kahane carried out violent acts against Arabs, he was arrested; some Kach members were placed under police surveillance. Yet, time and again, he was released and the surveillance was soon lifted. This allowed him to fuel tensions by using what many Israelis regarded as "American-made" stunts.

The population of Israel's expatriate American community is estimated to be 60,000--barely 1.5% of the country's 4.4 million Jews. The Russian, Moroccan, Romanian, Iraqi, Polish and Argentine Jewish communities settled since independence in 1948 are far larger. Yet, the influence of American Jews on Israeli society is far greater.

They can be found in all walks of Israeli life--in government, the army, business, the professions. Many are leading artists and writers. Yet, a substantial number of them identify with the political radicalism and religious militancy found on the fringe of Israel's politics, particularly on the West Bank.

To be sure, the vast majority of the 120,000 Jews who live in the 144 rural and urban communities on the West Bank are law-abiding citizens. Most are secular Israelis drawn to the region by subsidized housing and by a desire to improve their quality of life. Only a relatively small minority--no more than 10,000--firmly embraces an uncompromising nationalism laced with the religious conviction that this land was promised by God to Abraham and his offspring. Half are of American origin.

True, when Kahane and his followers arrived in Israel in 1972, they found an environment already infected by the nationalist virus, one fed by years of Palestinian terrorism and the Arabs' rejection of the right of Israel to exist. Yet, they brought with them ideas, deeply rooted in American culture, that helped produce a virulent strain of nationalism--a readiness to resort to political violence, trigger-happiness, vigilantism. All are imbrued with the emotions of the Holocaust.

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