Australia isn’t taking the national security threat from far-right extremism seriously enough



The Christchurch attack is a clear signal we need to change our approach to both hateful extremism and toxic political discourse in Australia.
David Alexander/AAP

Greg Barton, Deakin University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read the rest of the series here.


Until the terror attack in Christchurch in March, the threat of far-right terrorism in Australia was one we knew was coming, but believed was well over the horizon.

The sordid story of the Christchurch attacker – “ordinary Australian” turned hateful bigot turned mass-murdering terrorist – contains some uncomfortable truths for our country, not least of which is the fact that the threat of far-right extremism has arrived in the here and now.

Just as troubling, yet even more challenging because it is so insidious, are the clear links between the Christchurch shooter’s motivations and our mainstream political discourse. Facing up to this threat requires us changing our approach both to hateful extremism and toxic political discourse.

Police and counter-terrorism officials have long been warning us of the rising threat of far-right violent extremism. Over the past decade, this has emerged as the number one terrorist threat in America and a persistent and growing threat in Europe.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It’s tempting to say that had more resources been committed to tracking and monitoring far-right groups and individuals in Australia, the Christchurch terrorist perhaps could have been stopped.

But even in hindsight, things are not so clear. The Christchurch gunman was a lone actor with no previous history of significant violence, although his involvement in hateful extremism was well-known to family and friends.

This is the particular threat that keeps counter-terrorism experts awake at night, when so-called “cleanskins” (people with ostensibly spotless records) turn into lone-actor terrorists.

We are flying blind on far-right extremism

One clear lesson from Christchurch is that we need to pay more attention to hate speech and hate crimes.

It is true that “shit-posting” is a common occurrence on social media, and among all those people spouting off, it is extremely difficult to see who might become a violent extremist.

But clearly, we don’t understand the world of far-right extremism nearly as well as we should. We need a better way of monitoring and tracking far-right forums, social networks and the links between far-right individuals through their histories of travel and extremist communications.

We also have no centralised, national database of hate incidents. Hate crimes remain under-reported, poorly documented and de-prioritised to low levels of state policing.




Read more:
Right-wing extremism has a long history in Australia


The result is that we are flying blind. We don’t get to see the patterns between far-right groups and internet “shit-posters” because we are not collecting the data.

If we made it a priority at the state and federal level to document hate incidents, whether crimes or not, we would at least have a sense of when and where the problem is growing and who is most significantly involved.

This wouldn’t eliminate the threat of far-right extremism, but it might help stop the next massacre and it would certainly contribute to making Australian society more healthy, welcoming and just.

Anti-immigrant protesters at a Reclaim Australia rally in Sydney in 2015.
David Moir/AAP

A disproportionate focus on Islamist terror threats

The September 11 attacks in America, and subsequent attacks by al-Qaeda in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere, triggered an enormous investment in counter-terrorism efforts in Australia.

This had barely begun to abate when the formation of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate in mid-2014 alerted us to the high rates of terror recruitment in Australia and prompted the raising of the national terrorism alert to the penultimate level in September 2014.

An intercepted phone call then triggered Australia’s largest-ever counter-terrorism operation. Shortly afterward, the Islamic State issued a call for random lone-actor attacks around the world and, within days, an 18-year-old launched a knife attack against two police officers in Melbourne.




Read more:
Australia has enacted 82 anti-terror laws since 2001. But tough laws alone can’t eliminate terrorism


These circumstances have led to 82 counter-terrorism laws being enacted in Australia since 2001, and 16 counter-terrorism operations since 2014, almost all of which have been responding to the threat posed by violent Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

This perception of the increased threat posed by these groups has resulted in a disproportionate investment in counter-terrorism compared with the response to the much greater threat posed by domestic violence.

At the same time, however, very little has been invested in preventative counter-terrorism measures, including countering far-right extremism.

A national discourse bound up in fear

We pride ourselves on being the world’s most successful multicultural society, yet we consistently turn a deaf ear to those who come up against hatred.

Just last month, for example, a new national survey found that 82% of Asian Australians, 81% of Australians of Middle Eastern background and 71% of Indigenous Australians had experienced some form of discrimination.

One reason why we are not yet ready to face up to this problem is that our national political discourse has for decades become bound up with the politics of fear, “othering”, and scapegoating minority communities.

When we demonise “illegal arrivals” and give license to the toxic rhetoric that we are being “swamped by Asians”, as Pauline Hanson put it in the late 1990s, or more recently “flooded by Muslims”, then we are buying into the core element of the narrative of terrorists like the Christchurch gunman.

In his manifesto, the gunman referenced the far-right extremist trope of “the great replacement” –
the fear that white Christian society is being overrun by brown-skinned, non-Christian people who are changing its culture and society irrevocably.

He picked up this idea from parts of Europe where there is strong antagonism to migrants and Muslims. But he referenced it directly from the writings of the Norwegian far-right terrorist who shot dead 69 people and blew up another eight in July 2011.

This same argument featured in the manifesto of the El Paso gunman who murdered 22 people at a Walmart store in Texas last month. In it, he praised the Christchurch shooter and warned of a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas.

These alt-right terrorists are driven in part by a fantasy of going from “zero to hero” in the alt-right internet world and becoming renowned as “warrior defenders”.

White nationalist manifestos are a recurring feature of far-right extremist attacks, like the one in El Paso this year.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Prioritising far-right extremism

Prior to Christchurch, kicking the can down the road and prioritising other threats to our national security seemed an understandable, if not ideal response.

We now need to face the reality that of 50 terrorism-related deaths in the US last year, almost all involved far-right extremism. (Only one was linked to jihadi terrorism.) This is a pattern that’s been established for decades now. In fact, nearly three-quarters of all terrorist deaths in the US over the past decade have been linked to far-right extremism.

And while there is reason to hope the problem will never become quite so serious in Australia (despite the fact an Australian far-right extremist has murdered 51 people in another country), we need to do what we can now to counter the rise of hate speech and hate crimes – not later.

There are no quick fixes or guaranteed solutions, but these steps will make society better in ways that go far beyond the immediate threat of another terrorist attack.The Conversation

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The far-right may think they own ‘nationalism’, but we can reclaim it as a force for good


Rachel Busbridge, Australian Catholic University

We see the word “nationalism” as problematic. The weekend rally on St Kilda beach, organised by far-right activist Neil Erikson, reminds us nationalism is the territory of fringe groups who hold bigoted views, particularly towards people who aren’t “white”.

Nationalism means:

Identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.

We often think about nationalism in these terms. To be a nationalist means loving your own country in a strident manner while being fairly suspicious of people in other countries.

The global rise of populism and the solid electoral gains made by far-right and xenophobic parties across the Western world seems to have underscored the association between nationalism and the base and aggressive in human politics.

Yet, is it possible to simply turf out nationalism? Beyond its ideological connotations, nationalism rests on one of the most important elements shaping modern social life: we live in a world of nations.

We often under-estimate the power of nationalism in contemporary societies, as well as the variety of roles – not all conservative and problematic — it plays as a social and political force.




Read more:
‘Far right’ groups may be diverse – but here’s what they all have in common


How multicultural groups use nationalism

Australian nationalism may have come to be associated with right-wing groups such as Reclaim Australia. But multicultural communities often publicly frame their distinctive identities in terms of national belonging and participation in the life of the nation.

They may not always march under the flag — though sometimes they do — but they regularly appeal to a national “we”. My research has explored how multicultural communities in Australia invoke the national language of their new country while advocating for their unique needs and cultural differences.

Although flags are often associated with right-wing groups, they are also embraced by new citizens.
Sophie Moore/AAP

Irrespective of our personal politics, we participate in the idea of nationalism when we identify ourselves as “Australian”, talk about “United States” politics or expect to encounter cultural differences at the airport.

Some say we should use the word “patriotism” as a softer alternative. While still guided by a love and loyalty for country, a patriot’s passions are tempered by a “spirit of cooperation”.

Others say we should throw out any loyalty for country altogether, becoming instead cosmopolitanists who celebrate a borderless common humanity, or localists who prioritise the interests of their immediate community.

But nationalism is not just a political ideology that demands the needs of the national group sit above those of outsiders. National loyalty doesn’t necessarily supersede any others while national interests trump all else. Nationalism is intertwined with the very idea of there being nations in the first place.

This is such a taken-for-granted reality, we often understand nations as stretching back to time immemorial when, in fact, they are only a couple of hundred years old – and most are far younger.

Modern nationalism has its roots in 18th century European thought and found its most powerful expressions in the French and American Revolutions. But it is only since the end of the second world war that the world transformed from one of empire and dominion to ostensibly independent nation-states.




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Nations, of course, are real in the sense that the nation-state continues to organise everything from schools, markets, bureaucracies and military, to the structures of citizenship. But the idea of the nation as a political community united by a distinctive culture is an imaginary construct.

The notion of nation confers an idea of horizontal membership and solidarity (rich or poor, we are all Australian) belied by vigorous and often violent struggles that take place under its rubric – as well as a selective forgetting of history.

Yet, their ubiquity in the modern social imagination means nations matter.

Why nations matter

Nations matter because they provide identity, community and a sense of belonging for many people. In a world made smaller by globalisation, this is especially important to counter the sense of rootlessness and displacement.

Nations also matter precisely because of the things they promise yet fail to deliver. It isn’t possible to fulfil the national ideal of horizontal membership (Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart will never be neighbour to the average Joe), but the aspiration for equal participation and compulsion towards solidarity can make for powerful democratic fodder.

Historically, nationalism and the idea of popular rule was essential to the movement towards democracy. Today, the idea of belonging to a nation continues to fashion social solidarity across differences, encourages mutual responsibility among citizens and allows people to commit to or participate in public institutions and projects.

The confederate flag implies a nationalism that sees white Americans as superior, and promotes slavery.
Kim Kelley-Wagner/Shutterstock

All this compels a more nuanced understanding of the roles and functions of nationalism in contemporary society. Rather than patronise “ordinary people” for their nationalist attachments, we would be well served to think about the democratic and progressive potential of nationalism.




Read more:
Outrage over schoolgirl refusing to stand for anthem shows rise of aggressive nationalism


The Trumps and Brexiters of the world are most certainly nationalists in the sense they organise around a “nation first” idea. But the political meanings of nationalism are not set in stone. Nationalism can take progressive forms that prioritise connectedness and equity rather than racism or white supremacy.

Nationalism can be used to fight colonial domination as much as enforce it.

Most importantly, nationalism needs to be understood as a driving ideology shaping our modern world. Grasping this is fundamental to understanding national community as more a political aspiration than a cultural given; something to achieve rather than something already fixed.

And this, in turn, is fundamental to refusing the claims of the far-right who would like to claim the nation for themselves.The Conversation

Rachel Busbridge, Lecturer in Sociology, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How believers in ‘white genocide’ are spreading their hate-filled message in Australia



File 20181126 149341 dd4hj8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
An alt-right protestor promoting the idea of ‘white genocide’ at a rally in Washington on the anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville protest.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

Kaz Ross, University of Tasmania

This piece is part of a series on race and racism in Australia. The series examines this complex and incendiary topic, and the role it plays in contemporary Australia.


In October, the ABC’s Background Briefing outlined how the NSW Young Nationals Party had been the target of an organised infiltration attempt by members with neo-Nazi or “alt-right” views. Once this infiltration was exposed, 22 members were banned for life and individuals in other extremist groups were barred from becoming future members.

The group’s aim was to influence party policy in the area of immigration, as shown in motions they proposed at the Young Nationals’ annual conference. Controversially, they wanted immigration to be curtailed to only “culturally compatible peoples” and for white South African farmers to be granted refugee status on the basis of racial oppression.

These views have been gaining support in Australia. Senator Fraser Anning and MP Andrew Laming have both spoken publicly about the plight of white South Africans, and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton floated (then discounted) the idea of special visa attention for the farmers.




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Why Australia should be wary of the Proud Boys and their violent, alt-right views


Senator Pauline Hanson’s most recent maiden speech in 2016 also called for an end to multiculturalism and the granting of visas for “incompatible” people, specifically Muslims.

Anning’s defence of Western civilisation on Facebook.
Senator Fraser Anning/Facebook

These views are based – perhaps unknowingly – on a core belief of neo-Nazis: so-called “white genocide”.

The defence of Western civilisation and pride in “white” achievements – on the rise both here and abroad – have become racist dog whistles for this call for action to prevent the “disappearance” of the white race.

This fear of white genocide is also leading to violence. The shooter who killed 11 people in the recent Pittsburgh synagogue attack justified his actions by claiming that Jews were committing “genocide” against his people.

So, what is ‘white genocide’?

The recent manifestation of white genocide has its origins in the American neo-Nazi movement. The Turner Diaries, a very influential 1970s novel by William Luther Pierce, posited a dystopian world in which white Americans were oppressed by non-white minorities at the behest of Jewish politicians. A righteous, armed resistance then takes back control of the world after a bloody nuclear war.

Pierce’s work inspired a spate of violent crimes, including the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh in 1995. It also led to the formation of secret groups, including the infamous and ultra-violent white supremacist group The Order. It was an influential member of the Order, David Lane, who coined the white nationalist mantra:

We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.

White genocide adherents want a return to a so-called traditional way of life defined by the nuclear family and prescribed gender roles. They divide humans into separate races and see multiculturalism and migration as a threat because each race should be contained to their perceived homeland.

Imagined racial homelands posted in the Australia’s Future Exposed Facebook group.
Facebook

The idea of a homeland is important. Following the second world war, American neo-Nazis drew on notions of place and race that took root in Germany in the 19th century and were later adopted under Adolf Hitler as the slogan “blood and soil”.

“Blood and soil” is the cry of the nativist, asserting the belonging of a people to a place to the exclusion of outsiders. The slogan reappeared as one of the chants at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

‘Blood and soil’ was among the many racist chants of protesters in Charlottesville.

For white nationalists, this idea forms the “solution” to the threat of white genocide. Neo-Nazi groups like Identity Evropa advocate for ceasing immigration from “non-compatible” nations and encouraging population growth amongst whites.

The most important goal of white nationalists, however, is the creation of a white “ethno-state”.

This is a state that is presumed to have strong bonds and social cohesion due to shared ethnicity or race, as argued by the evolutionary psychologist Kevin MacDonald. Some adherents go so far as to call for the removal of non-whites from multicultural societies, such as the US and Australia, to so-called ethnic homelands in other parts of the world.




Read more:
Twelve charts on race and racism in Australia


‘White genocide’ fears in Australia

After the US, Australia has the most active white nationalist presence on social media, according to J.M. Berger, a leading researcher on extremism. Over the past 10 years, various white supremacist groups have formed online, such as the self-described neo-Nazi group Antipodean Resistance.

As documented by the ABC, the ideas of neo-Nazis like Pierce and Lane are also actively being explored in secret online groups in Australia. An influential collection of writings called Siege by the neo-Nazi James Mason was cited as an inspiration for some of those expelled from the NSW Young Nationals, along with the aim of creating an ethno-state.

Another recent manifestation of this white supremacist ideology is the meme “It’s OK to be white.” Worn on a T-shirt by Canadian racist provocateur Lauren Southern during her recent visit to Australia, then raised as a motion in the Senate by Hanson, the slogan aims to portray whites as victims who are not protected by anti-racism legislation or social practices.

It is this belief that whites are being targeted that underpins the resignation letter of the leader of the NSW Young Nationals infiltration attempt. Clifford Jennings claimed that young white Australians face a grim future in which they are at risk of becoming a “harried, persecuted minority” due to an “oppressive multicultural regime” supported by the “treasonous” leaders of the major parties.

This is a clarion call to the believers in white genocide.

Why this theory is flawed and dangerous

Jennings is harking back to the long-abandoned Immigration Restriction Act (1901) and other racially targeted pieces of legislation known colloquially as the White Australia Policy. These privileged certain Europeans in migration programs with the aim of “keeping Australia white”.

But how do Australia’s white supremacists side-step Australia’s 60,000 years of Indigenous history? For the believers in white genocide, the term “genocide” does not refer to the impact of European colonisation on Indigenous peoples because they claim Australia only came into being as a nation with the arrival of white Europeans.

Visiting alt-right speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux have openly denigrated Aboriginal culture. This has supported a belief that there is no place for Aboriginal people in the white ethno-state.




Read more:
Australian politics explainer: the White Australia policy


Of course, the idea of whiteness itself in Australia has changed dramatically over time. And despite the claims of DNA testing companies, there is no scientific basis for “race” itself and, therefore, for racial superiority claims.

Are white Australians at risk of becoming a persecuted minority? Hardly.

Regardless, the white genocide theory is based on a flawed premise – that only white people can be authentic Australians (or residents of other perceived “ethno-states”). And in multicultural Australia, the facts tell a different story.The Conversation

Kaz Ross, Lecturer in Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The far-right’s creeping influence on Australian politics


Andrew Markus, Monash University

This article is the last of a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics. Read part one here, part two here, part three here and part four here.


Far-right political groupings are a constant feature on the fringes of Australian politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, they included the League of Rights and minuscule neo-Nazi parties. In the 1980s, there was National Action, the Australian Nationalist Movement, Australians Against Further Immigration and the Citizens Electoral Council.

In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of a number of groups that combine online organisation with intimidating street activity: Reclaim Australia, Rise Up Australia, the Australian Defence League, the United Patriots Front, True Blue Crew and Antipodean Resistance.

While hostility between – and within – far-right groups is typical, they are united by their nationalism, racism, opposition to “alien” immigration and disdain for democracy.

Most far-right activists continue to be excluded from polite society. But the endorsement of their ideas by some mainstream political figures has allowed them to make creeping gains into the political culture.

Paranoid style

A feature of far-right movements was characterised in the 1960s by the American political scientist Richard Hofstadter as the “paranoid style”:

a style of mind that … evokes [a] sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.

A common belief concerns conspiracies that are hidden by the media, which disseminates what today is termed “fake news” or “alternative facts”, previously known as propaganda and misinformation.

The conspirators have been identified in various guises, with the common element being the promotion of international and cosmopolitan, as distinct from national, values. They include Freemasons, Catholics (or “Papists”), Jews, Muslims, Communists, Socialists and Fabians.

International organisations such as the United Nations are especially suspect – seen as agents of a “New World Order”. Climate scientists and environmentalists, with their proliferation of international treaties, have become major targets in recent years.

Eric Butler, the driving force of the League of Rights for half a century, strove to unmask what he saw as the “New International Economic Order”, orchestrated by Jews, manifested in the Indigenous land rights movement, the destruction of family farms and small businesses, and the policies of “multi-racialism and multi-culturalism”.

In the 1980s and 1990s, far-right groups focused on their discovery of the “The Grand Plan – Asianisation of Australia”. The 1997 book The Truth, issued in Pauline Hanson’s name by a group of her followers, revealed “the internationalist elite of The New World Order” that was plotting the destruction of Anglo-Saxon Australia through “immigrationism, multiculturalism, Asianisation and Aboriginalism”.

In contemporary Australia, far-right movements focus on Islam. It is seen as an authoritarian force that supposedly seeks world domination through the infiltration of Muslim populations into the West, the establishment of a separate legal system (Sharia Law) enforced through mosques, and the subjugation of non-Muslims through acts of terror.

Hostility to immigration

The distinctive mindset that characterises supporters of minor political parties of the right is evident in public opinion surveys, but findings on members of fringe political groupings are less reliable because their numbers in national surveys are very small.

Nevertheless, we can confidently conclude that a high proportion of people attracted to the far-right have a heightened negative view of their life circumstances, a stronger sense that the area in which they live – and their country – is on a downward path, and negative views of immigration and ethnic diversity.

The 2017 Scanlon Foundation national survey, which I led and analysed, disaggregated attitudes by political alignment. In response to the open-ended question “What do you think is the most important problem facing Australia today?”, immigration (viewed negatively) was the most important issue for One Nation supporters. By contrast, it ranked fifth for Coalition voters, sixth for Labor, and was not ranked at all by Greens voters.

When asked for their view of the level of immigration, 86% of One Nation supporters indicated that the intake was too high, compared with just of 37% of the national sample.

Heightened concern over immigration links to nationalist values. Asked to respond to the proposition that “people who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians”, 78% of One Nation voters strongly agreed, compared with 37% of Coalition voters, 30% of Labor and 4% of Greens. An overwhelming 92% of One Nation voters strongly agree that “in the modern world, maintaining the Australian way of life is important.”

Expanding reach

While there is consistency over time in far-right values, in one respect there has been change. Where once these previously fringe political groupings struggled to reach large audiences, they have now improved their messaging and, most importantly, harnessed the power of the internet and social media to grow their networks.

This is illustrated by the “Stop the Mosque” campaign in the Victorian regional centre of Bendigo, which reached a level of activism and civil disobedience that won national and international attention. Opponents of the mosque established a Facebook page in January 2014; within six months, it had amassed more than 8000 followers.

Links were forged with like-minded groups across Australia, the United States and Europe, who provided encouragement, campaign advice, donations and access to resources. Protest activities were maintained for over two years and spread to other areas.

The emphasis on the perceived threat of Islam has been a crystallising issue for the far-right in recent years, helping it to grab headlines and recruit followers. Pauline Hanson and the Liberal National Party’s George Christensen spoke at anti-Islamic Reclaim Australia rallies in 2015.

The politics of the paranoid style remains in vogue among the far-right, which limits its possibilities for growth. But today, as Collette Snowden has observed, its reach is greatly enhanced:

with the dedication and commitment of a few passionate supporters, small and more marginalised groups are able to create a public presence that previously would have required years.

The ConversationThe influence of the far-right should not be overstated, but it is a danger sign when mainstream politicians associate themselves with its hateful agenda.

Andrew Markus, Pratt Foundation Research Chair of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Church Building in Israel Set Ablaze


Unidentified arsonist guts bottom floors of Jerusalem ministry center.

ISTANBUL, November 4 (CDN) — An unidentified arsonist in Israel set fire to a Jerusalem church building that has long been a focal point for anti-Christian sentiment in a Jewish ultra-Orthodox-leaning neighborhood, church officials said.

On Friday (Oct. 29) shortly before 1 a.m., someone broke the basement windows of the Jerusalem Alliance Church Ministry Center and set fire to its bottom floors. An area resident noticed the fire and called the fire department, which arrived 20 minutes later and found the church basement engulfed in flames.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze, ventilated the smoke and left after inspecting the rest of the building, said Jack Sara, senior pastor of the church.

Smoke and the noise of the blaze had awakened 10 volunteer workers who were sleeping at the church’s overnight facilities. The volunteers, who were visiting Israel from the United States and Denmark, went to a nearby hospital and were treated for smoke inhalation; they were released several hours later, church leaders said.

The church building sustained approximately $85,000 of smoke and fire damage. The fire largely gutted the basement and destroyed recent renovations.

Sara said he had difficulty understanding how the arsonist could have carried so much hate; whoever set the fire had to know people were inside the church, he said.

“He not only intended to burn a room but to kill people,” Sara said. “Whoever did it intended to kill people.”

According to Sara, fire investigators initially said the fire was accidental. Then they shifted and said the fire was arson, only to change back again to their original claim that it was accidental.

Although the Israeli press reported that investigators had not formally announced their findings, Sara said investigators told him the fire was “very suspicious.” Contrary to some reports, he insisted that there were no candles lit in the basement when the fire broke out.

Sara said his church, which hosts several congregational groups including expatriates and both Arab Christians and Messianic Jews, routinely receives threats. Referring to Orthodox Jews, militant Palestinians and even some Orthodox Christian communities, Sara said he receives hatred “from all sides.”

It is not unheard of for ultra-Orthodox extremists to burn churches or Bibles in Israel. Not far from the ministry center is the Narkiss Street Baptist Church. In 2007, the church was damaged in a fire believed to be set by ultra-Orthodox Jews. The church building had been rebuilt on the site of a church facility destroyed 25 years prior by anti-Christian groups.

Other recent anti-Christian attacks in Israel have included the bombing of a Messianic Jewish pastor’s home that left his teenage son clinging to life, the disruption of religious services by mobs of protestors and assaults on members of groups deemed “missionaries” by far-right, Orthodox Jews.

The Alliance Church building was constructed roughly 100 years ago. Palestine Bible College was founded at the building.

In 1948, after Zionist leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel, the church opened other buildings in the Old City of Jerusalem to serve Arab Christians hampered from attending religious services by newly established political realities. Since 1967, Sara said, the building has been used for many purposes.

Sara said his church will host a prayer meeting on Saturday (Nov. 6) to ask for protection of the congregation and for a blessing on its enemies.

In a statement provided to the press, Sara said he wanted the church building to be “a beacon of light reflecting God’s love to all people.”

“We will continue to serve the Holy Land residents from this place, proclaiming peace and justice for all human beings, declaring God’s love for all of our neighbors, friends and enemies,” he said.

Report from Compass Direct News

Victims of Bomb Blast in Israel Recovering as Suspect Indicted


Messianic Jews hope for punishment from courts, mercy from God, for confessed killer.

ISTANBUL, November 13 (CDN) — One morning during the week of March 10, 2008 in Ariel, Israel, David Ortiz opened his Bible randomly, read the words on the pages that opened before him and was filled with dread.

“I opened the book to Jeremiah, and a verse jumped out, “Ortiz said, referring to Jeremiah 9:21: “Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.”

“I was afraid,” he said. “It was given to me like a promise, but of a different kind.”

For weeks, Ortiz had felt a premonition that something horrible was going to happen to him or his family. Six months prior, while in Norway, Ortiz watched a violent storm rip over the countryside. The wind tore out trees and threw them across a field. But still, through it all, some trees survived. Ortiz felt God was using the storm to speak to him.

“The ones that are rooted are the ones that remain,” he said.

On March 20, 2008, Ortiz’s fears came to pass. When his 15-year-old son lifted the lid of a Purim basket, left anonymously as a gift at their Ariel apartment, a bomb inside the basket exploded.

The bomb was devastating. It damaged the Ortiz family apartment and destroyed much of what they owned. When young Ami Ortiz was taken to the hospital, he was blind, covered with blood and burns and full of needles and screws contained in the bomb. The doctors told his mother, Leah Ortiz, that Ami was “Anush.”

“Literally, in Hebrew it means the spirit is leaving the body,” she said.

Now, 20 months later, Ami is 16, back in school and playing basketball. And yesterday the man that police say committed the crime was indicted for attempted murder.

Other than what has been released in court proceedings, little is known about Jack Teitel, the man accused of bombing the Ortiz family. One thing is certain – he believes he was acting in accordance with the will of God. Walking into court, the 37-year-old, U.S.-born West Bank settler shouted that God was proud of him.

“It was a pleasure and honor to serve my God,” Teitel reportedly said. “God is proud of what I have done. I have no regrets.”

Police said that Teitel is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish nationalist who picked out his targets based on his nationalist philosophy. Along with the Ortiz case, police said Teitel is responsible for the June 1997 shooting death of Samir Bablisi, a Palestinian taxi driver who was found in his cab with a single bullet wound to his head. Two months later, police said, Teitel shot Isa Jabarin, a Palestinian shepherd who was giving Teitel driving directions to Jerusalem.

Police also said that Teitel attempted to burn down a monastery and unsuccessfully planted several bombs. He is also accused of the September 2008 bombing of Zeev Sternhell of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The bombing left the emeritus history professor slightly wounded.

Teitel has told police he was trying to kill David Ortiz, pastor of a church of Messianic Jews called Congregation of Ariel, not injure his son.

In all, Teitel has been indicted for two cases of pre-meditated murder, three cases of attempted murder, carrying a weapon, manufacturing a weapon, possession of illegal weapons and incitement to commit violence.

Adi Keidar, Teitel’s attorney, reportedly said his client is “mentally unstable.” He cited Teitel’s alleged confession to acts he did not commit. After a psychiatric evaluation by the state, Teitel was deemed fit to stand trial. Keidar is representing Teitel or behalf of the Honenu organization, a nationalistic law firm endorsed by Mordechai Eliyahu, a rabbi known for his far-right Orthodox views.

Honenu is known for defending, among others, Ami Popper. Popper was convicted in 1990 for shooting seven Palestinian workers who were waiting for a ride at a day labor pick-up site. Popper’s attack, like all others cited in Honenu’s website, was said to come “in response” to Palestinian aggression. Despite numerous attempts to contact Keidar, he could not be reached for comment.

David Ortiz said he is not surprised by Teitel’s claim that God is proud of him. Ortiz cited biblical verses where the early Christians were warned that one day people would kill them and think that they were doing the will of God. Teitel, Ortiz said, saw him as an enemy of the nation of Israel.

“He saw me and the professor as false prophets,” Ortiz said.

Police have brought no evidence linking Teitel to any other co-conspirator. But Leah Ortiz said she thinks Teitel worked with others. Teitel’s neighbor, Yosef Espinoza, was brought in for questioning and later released. Teitel does not speak Hebrew, but when he was arrested he was distributing handouts written in Hebrew criticizing homosexuals in Israel.

When his apartment was raided, police found a cache of illegal weapons he has been indicted for owning. Ortiz also said that a recording tape from a closed-circuit television camera taken on the day of the bombing shows Teitel was driven to the Ortiz apartment by another person.

Regardless, Leah Ortiz scoffs at the claim that Teitel was politically motivated. Instead, she said, he used politics and religion as a foil to justify murder.

“He is a serial killer,” she said.

In spite of all the pain that the Ortiz family has gone through, Leah Ortiz said she has seen much good come from the tragedy, including miraculous healings. She said that the bombing has helped soften the opinion of people in Israel toward Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Jewish prophets.

“It has made them face the facts of how they see Jesus,” she said.

Howard Bass, a leader of a Messianic congregation in Beer Sheva, Israel, said he isn’t so sure.

“It’s not that simple,” he said, adding that such attacks may help tolerant people to eschew violence, but that others will actually be encouraged by the bombings. “It makes people aware of how far they [people set against the Messianic Jews] will be willing to go and abhor them. It’s bringing things to light and forcing people to make a decision: What is good and what is evil?”

Hostile Environment

Bass himself was a victim of at least one attack by anti-missionary, Orthodox extremists. On Dec. 24, 2005, several hundred Orthodox Jews mobbed an outdoor service held by Bass. The mob destroyed church equipment, terrorized congregants and threw Bass into a baptismal pool.

Bass has since sued Yad L’Achim, an Orthodox, anti-missionary organization he said is responsible for inciting the attack. A court decision in the case is due later this month.

On its website, Yad L’Achim asserts that missionaries are “devious” and are trying to “destroy the Jewish people.” The organization makes no distinction in its website between missionaries and Messianic Jews. The site also goes as far as to accuse Messianic Jews of “playing the victim to the hilt” in reference to the Ortiz bombing.

Despite numerous attempts to reach members of Yad L’Achim, no one was made available for comment.

According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2009 issued by the U.S. Department of State, there are 10,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. The report documents several cases of violence against Messianic Jews, including one case on May 15 in which “Ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street.”

Additionally, Bass cites a book published this week in Israel entitled, “The King’s Torah.” Bass said the book encourages the killing of gentiles and anyone else deemed to be a threat to Israel.

“We’re seeing a spirit rising,” Bass said, “where they feel they have a legitimate right to kill anyone who threatens the Jewish state.”

Mentioning the book, David Ortiz agreed with Bass, calling the bombing and recent anti-Christian aggression “a shadow of things to come.”

As for what the Ortiz family wishes for Teitel, Leah Ortiz said she hopes he will receive a sentence that is “equal to his crime.” Because Israel has no death penalty, this very likely would mean life in prison.

Regardless of what happens in court, members of the Ortiz family say they have forgiven Teitel.  David Ortiz hopes one day to sit down face-to-face with Teitel and talk. He said he hopes Teitel will become another Apostle Paul.

“There is something inside him that makes him want to kill people. If God has had mercy on me, maybe he’ll have mercy on others,” Ortiz said. “The Lord forgave David and many people in the Bible – my goal and my prayer for him is that he will repent and be saved.”

Report from Compass Direct News