Children of Abraham v sons of Ibrahim

On a visit to human rights groups in Israel and the West Bank, Sigrid Rausing senses a growing tensi

There is silence on the scrubby hills overlooking Bethlehem. The hills are dotted with cylindrical Israeli guard towers, looking down into the valleys. Tiny fields of olive trees line the roads; the disputed areas, here at least, are so small. We are just above the wall dividing Israel from the West Bank. It is deceptively peaceful, almost somnolent. Sparrows dive in and out of the glittering razor wire on top. From the hill you can see how close it is to the Palestinian homes of Bethlehem, how comfortably distant from Israeli homes.

Most of the land in Israel is owned by the state. The uneven distribution of facilities, from sewerage to education, remains a problem. In addition to communal disadvantages, the privileges that flow from army service, such as subsidised education and housing, are also denied to individual Palestinians, who do not serve in the army. Hebrew remains the language of teaching in the universities, which affects Palestinian students. And yet many Palestinians in Israel fear that, in the eventual peace deal, their villages will be traded for land in the West Bank with Jewish settlements, depriving them of Israeli citizenship.

Persecution, the tragedy of exile and the wish to return to the land of the forefathers are part of the DNA of Jewish culture. These are now clashing with another strand of the culture which is about social revolution, human rights, equality and secularism. The conflict is no longer simply about Palestinians v Jews, nor about the ultra-Orthodox v the secular; it is also a bitter cultural civil war between beleaguered human rights organisations - the remnants of the Israeli left - and the secular right.

This is not about Zionism. If you are a Jew living in Israel you are, for better or worse, a Zionist. But human rights activists, along with many Israelis, remember the original dream of Israel as a refuge for all Jews and a democracy where no one is discriminated against on the grounds of race or religion. They remember the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which states that Israel

will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

They believe in keeping Israel accountable to its origins and ideals, even in the face of war and terrorism.

People on the right are concerned with security, listen to the anti-Semitism of the Muslim world and take seriously the openly anti-Semitic charter of Hamas. Liberals, by contrast, listen to Palestinian narratives of oppression and discrimination. Conservatives believe that the forces that want to destroy Israel and drive the Jews into the sea may prevail; liberals believe that peaceful coexistence is possible. Conservatives believe that liberals co-operate with the forces that conspire to bring about Israel's destruction; liberals believe that conservatives exploit Israel's exceptionalism, particularly the memory of the Holocaust, in the name of security. Liberals abhor racism and oppression, while many conservatives, especially supporters of Avigdor Lieberman, now believe in permanent separation. For conservatives, external criticism of Israeli policies is always a sign of anti-Semitism or self-hatred. They also increasingly argue that internal criticism of Israel delegitimises the nation, undermining Israel's very right to exist.

I am here to visit the Israeli grantees of my charitable foundation. Israeli human rights organisations are almost entirely funded from abroad. To a greater or lesser extent, that is true of all Israeli institutions, and the country does indeed have an affluent sheen about it that speaks of generous grants from funding bodies. For the human rights organisations, however, foreign funding has led to a certain disconnection from Israelis themselves. Advocates are turning towards the international audience rather than the domestic one, to English rather than Hebrew. As a result, they have become somewhat isolated within Israel.

Yet they have achieved results. Palestinian detainees are no longer hooded or put into stress positions, or threatened with the arrest and maltreatment of relatives. Their shackles now have to be at least 50cm long, rather than 30cm. Detainee maltreatment is carefully monitored by NGOs.

The Supreme Court, too, has helped with many favourable rulings in cases brought by human rights groups. The ban on torture and the improvements to detainee conditions are sometimes used as arguments against human rights organisations, on the grounds that they are "unnecessary". The internal debate is combative, mirroring in many ways the American debate on torture in the Bush era. Many Israeli hawks are American-born (though, now, probably more of them are Russian), and many American hawks are deeply engaged in Israel.

We visit Hebron with one of the organisations we support. In Kiryat Arba, the settler suburb, we stop off at the Meir Kahane Memorial Park. There is the tomb of Baruch Goldstein, who killed dozens of unarmed Palestinians in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, in 1994. Israeli soldiers looked on, bewildered and motionless, until finally he was killed by members of the public.

Goldstein, born in Brooklyn, joined the ultra-nationalist Kahane's Jewish Defence League and lived in the Hebron settlement. The Hebrew inscription on his tomb states:

Here lies buried the holy one Dr Baruch Kappel Goldstein . . .
He gave his soul for the people of Israel, for the Torah and for the land. Clean of hand and pure of heart. Murdered while protecting the Nation of God.

There is a shoddy bus shelter next to the little park. The streets are empty.

In 1929, 67 Jews were killed in Hebron, ending Jewish life in the city. The settlers started to reoccupy Hebron in the late 1970s, house by house. Kiryat Arba now has some 600 inhabitants, guarded by 1,200 soldiers. Hebron itself is divided into two sectors - H1, home to about 180,000 Palestinians, and H2, the four square kilometres at the heart of city, which is under direct occupation.

There, on the narrow streets around Abraham's tomb, all shops are closed and sealed. People still live on the first and second floors. Every window is covered with a light metal mesh. The Palestinians' laws prevent them from selling their houses to the settlers, so the inhabitants of H2 are financially locked in. Houses are sometimes abandoned when owners die or move away. Settlers drape Israeli flags on them - another victory for Zionism, another (self-imposed) defeat for the Palestinians.

There are a few settler quarters in H2 as well. They are affluent and orderly, in contrast to the dismal Palestinian streets. On some streets, Israelis can drive and Palestinians cannot. In some places they have to walk on the other side of concrete barriers. Israeli soldiers, armed with machine-guns, complain only about the settlers, who often try to provoke fights with the Palestinians.

Our grantee has handed out video cameras to Palestinian families to record settler attacks, which are many and frequent. If there is a fight, the soldiers will step in - the post-Holocaust ideology of the Israeli state mandates that Jewish lives must always be protected. Without that protection, there would be guerrilla warfare in the West Bank.

We chat with a soldier in a watchtower. There is a bag of rubbish on the floor: chocolate wrappers, cans and paper, the detritus of the young. Outside, Breaking the Silence, a group dedicated to soldier testimony of abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories, is taking a group of visitors around. Next to them is a conservative group, showing the settlements. The atmosphere is tense; the soldiers are watching in case they clash. I ask if the liberal groups ever attack the conservative ones, and our guide laughs and shakes his head.

Confrontation in Israel is now the domain of the right, like the young activists of the neo-Zionist Im Tirtzu who recently targeted the progressive New Israel Fund with posters depicting its Israeli director with a horn in her forehead. A few streets away, settlers have painted naive scenes of Jewish life on a wall, political graffiti minimising the oppressive force of the occupation. The captions are in English:

Living together
A pious community
Destruction 1929
Liberation, return, rebuilding 1967
“The children have returned to their own borders." cf Jer 31:17

We visit the tomb of Abraham and Sarah, where Isaac, Jacob and their wives are also interred. Herod built a memorial temple over the tombs.

Pieces of paper - prayers - are thrown into the sealed rooms of the tombs. Birds fly in and out; padlocks seal the doors. Children, tourists, Orthodox men and women talk comfortably, drifting from tomb to tomb. A man sleeps on a plastic chair. I look into Abraham's tomb. Diagonally across from me, a Palestinian woman simultaneously looks through the bars of her identical window; Abraham is locked in between the two sides.

Later, we visit the mayor of a Palestinian village on the sea. His family accounts for 40 per cent of the population. He seems a little sleepy, talking about education, culture and sports, but without any enthusiasm - those words represent grants, and, like with Potemkin façades, the reality behind them is uncertain. This is the poorest village in Israel, between Haifa and Tel Aviv, and next to the wealthy Jewish village of Caesarea, where Prime Minister Netanyahu has a weekend house. The inhabitants of Caesarea built a sand barrier between the two villages.

The mayor's dream is a €50m holiday home development on the beach, funded by the European Union, temporarily stopped because of ownership issues. I can't imagine a holiday resort on this littered beach, despite the blue sea. We stand there, deep in thought, when suddenly an Arab horse canters by, and then another - fleeting images of Palestinian freedom and defiance.

The saddest thing we saw was not Hebron, or the partly bulldozed Palestinian cemetery in the Mount Carmel National Park, or the barrier wall. It was a prison outside Tel Aviv that houses asylum-seekers. Most of the male detainees are Africans, lounging on narrow beds in fairly open conditions. Some have walked across the Egyptian border. There is a ping-pong table in the open-air common-room; a cockroach crawls along a wall.

The female detainees are Asian and eastern European. A Ukrainian woman is thought to have been trafficked, but can't be helped unless she says so herself - she was picked up from a brothel, and is not saying. Her grey, expressionless face and bleached hair are haunting. But the saddest thing is the children's ward. Two boys are locked in a cell. They look about 12; younger than that and they are detained in boarding schools. The locking up is, I believe, temporary, like the stench from the garbage that is being removed as we stand there. I don't know where they were from - Sudan, perhaps. But the sight of them, the same age as my own son, was indescribably sad.

Sigrid Rausing is the publisher of Granta and founder of the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask

reddit.com/user/0I0I0I0I
Show Hide image

We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white women

Alt-right women are less visible than their tiki torch-carrying male counterparts - but they still exist. 

In November 2016, the writer and TED speaker Siyanda Mohutsiwa tweeted a ground-breaking observation. “When we talk about online radicalisation we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalisation of white men online is at astronomical levels,” she wrote, inspiring a series of mainstream articles on the topic (“We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men,” wrote Abi Wilkinson in The Guardian). It is now commonly accepted that online radicalisation is not limited to the work of Isis, which uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. Young, white men frequently form alt-right and neo-Nazi beliefs online.

But this narrative, too, is missing something. When it comes to online radicalisation into extreme right-wing, white supremacist, or racist views, women are far from immune.

“It’s a really slow process to be brainwashed really,” says Alexandra*, a 22-year-old former-racist who adopted extreme views during the United States presidential election of 2016. In particular, she believed white people to be more intelligent than people of colour. “It definitely felt like being indoctrinated into a cult.”

Alexandra was “indoctrinated” on 4Chan, the imageboard site where openly racist views flourish, especially on boards such as /pol/. It is a common misconception that 4Chan is only used by loser, basement-dwelling men. In actuality, 4Chan’s official figures acknowledge 30 percent of its users are female. More women may frequent 4Chan and /pol/ than it first appears, as many do not announce their gender on the site because of its “Tits or GTFO” culture. Even when women do reveal themselves, they are often believed to be men who are lying for attention.

“There are actually a lot of females on 4chan, they just don't really say. Most of the time it just isn't relevant,” says Alexandra. Her experiences on the site are similar to male users who are radicalised by /pol/’s far-right rhetoric. “They sowed the seeds of doubt with memes,” she laughs apprehensively. “Dumb memes and stuff and jokes…

“[Then] I was shown really bullshit studies that stated that some races were inferior to others like… I know now that that’s bogus science, it was bad statistics, but I never bothered to actually look into the truth myself, I just believed what was told to me.”

To be clear, online alt-right radicalisation still skews majority male (and men make up most of the extreme far-right, though women have always played a role in white supremacist movements). The alt-right frequently recruits from misogynistic forums where they prey on sexually-frustrated males and feed them increasingly extreme beliefs. But Alexandra’s story reveals that more women are part of radical right-wing online spaces than might first be apparent.

“You’d think that it would never happen to you, that you would never hold such horrible views," says Alexandra. "But it just happened really slowly and I didn't even notice it until too late."

***

We are less inclined to talk about radical alt-right and neo-Nazi women because they are less inclined to carry out radical acts. Photographs that emerged from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend revealed that it was mostly polo shirt-wearing young, white men picking up tiki torches, shouting racial slurs, and fighting with counter-protestors. The white supremacist and alt-right terror attacks of the last year have also been committed by men, not women. But just because women aren’t as visible doesn’t mean they are not culpable.  

“Even when people are alt-right or sympathisers with Isis, it’s a tiny percentage of people who are willing or eager to die for those reasons and those people typically have significant personal problems and mental health issues, or suicidal motives,” explains Adam Lankford, author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers.

“Both men and women can play a huge role in terms of shaping the radicalised rhetoric that then influences those rare people who commit a crime.”

Prominent alt-right women often publicly admit that their role is more behind-the-scenes. Ayla Stewart runs the blog Wife With a Purpose, where she writes about “white culture” and traditional values. She was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally before dropping out due to safety concerns. In a blog post entitled “#Charlottesville May Have Redefined Women’s Roles in the Alt Right”, she writes:

“I’ve decided that the growth of the movement has necessitated that I pick and choose my involvement as a woman more carefully and that I’m more mindful to chose [sic] women’s roles only.”

These roles include public speaking (only when her husband is present), gaining medical skills, and “listening to our men” in order to provide moral support. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this piece.

It is clear, therefore, that alt-right women do not have to carry out violence to be radical or radicalised. In some cases, they are complicit in the violence that does occur. Lankford gives the example of the Camp Chapman attack, committed by a male Jordanian suicide bomber against a CIA base in Afghanistan.

“What the research suggests in that case was the guy who ultimately committed the suicide bombing may have been less radical than his wife,” he explains. “His wife was actually pushing him to be more radical and shaming him for his lack of courage.” 

***

Just because women are less likely to be violent doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.

Angela King is a former neo-Nazi who went to prison for her part in the armed robbery and assault of a Jewish shop owner. She now runs Life After Hate, a non-profit that aims to help former right-wing extremists. While part of a skinhead gang, it was her job to recruit other women to the cause.

“I was well known for the violence I was willing to inflict on others… often times the men would come up to me and say we don’t want to physically hurt a woman so can you take care of this,” King explains. “When I brought other women in I looked for the same qualities in them that I thought I had in myself.”

King's 1999 mugshot

 

These traits, King explains, were anger and a previous history of violence. She was 15 when she became involved with neo-Nazis, and explains that struggles with her sexuality and bullying had made her into a violent teenager.

“I was bullied verbally for years. I didn't fit in, I was socially awkward,” she says. One incident in particular stands out. Aged 12, King was physically bullied for the first time.

“I was humiliated in a way that even today I still am humiliated by this experience,” she says. One day, King made the mistake of sitting at a desk that “belonged” to a bully. “She started a fight with me in front of the entire class… I’ve always struggled with weight so I was a little bit pudgy, I had my little training bra on, and during the fight she ripped my shirt open in front of the entire class.

“At that age, having absolutely no self-confidence, I made the decision that if I became the bully, and took her place, I could never be humiliated like that again.”

Angela King, aged 18

King’s story is important because when it comes to online radicalisation, the cliché is that bullied, “loser” men are drawn to these alt-right and neo-Nazi communities. The most prominent women in the far-right (such as Stewart, and Lauren Southern, a YouTuber) are traditionally attractive and successful, with long blonde hair and flashing smiles. In actuality, women that are drawn to the movement online might be struggling, like King, to be socially accepted. This in no way justifies or excuses extreme behaviour, but can go some way to explaining how and why certain young women are radicalised. 

“At the age of 15 I had been bullied, raped. I had started down a negative path you know, experimenting with drugs, drinking, theft. And I was dealing with what I would call an acute identity crisis and essentially I was a very, very angry young woman who was socially awkward who did not feel like I had a place in the world, that I fit in anywhere. And I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hated everything about myself.”

King explains that Life After Hate’s research reveals that there are often non-ideological based precursors that lead people to far right groups. “Individuals don’t go to hate groups because they already hate everyone, they go seeking something. They go to fill some type of void in their lives that they’re not getting.”

None of this, of course, excuses the actions and beliefs of far-right extremists, but it does go some way to explaining how “normal” young people can be radicalised online. I ask Alexandra, the former 4Chan racist, if anything else was going on in her life when she was drawn towards extreme beliefs.

“Yes, I was lonely,” she admits.                                                       

***

That lonely men and women can both be radicalised in the insidious corners of the internet shouldn’t be surprising. For years, Isis has recruited vulnerable young women online, with children as young as 15 becoming "jihadi brides". We have now acknowledged that the cliché of virginal, spotty men being driven to far-right hate excludes the college-educated, clean-cut white men who made up much of the Unite the Right rally last weekend. We now must realise that right-wing women, too, are radicalised online, and they, too, are culpable for radical acts.  

It is often assumed that extremist women are radicalised by their husbands or fathers, which is aided by statements by far-right women themselves. The YouTuber, Southern, for example, once said:  

“Anytime they [the left] talk about the alt-right, they make it sound like it’s just about a bunch of guys in basements. They don’t mention that these guys have wives – supportive wives, who go to these meet-ups and these conferences – who are there – so I think it’s great for right-wing women to show themselves. We are here. You’re wrong.”

Although there is truth in this statement, women don’t have to have far-right husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to be drawn to white supremacist or alt-right movements. Although it doesn’t seem the alt-right are actively preying on young white women the same way they prey on young white men, many women are involved in online spaces that we wrongly assume are male-only. There are other spaces, such as Reddit's r/Hawtschwitz, where neo-Nazi women upload nude and naked selfies, carving a specific space for themselves in the online far-right. 

When we speak of women radicalised by husbands and fathers, we misallocate blame. Alexandra deeply regrets her choices, but she accepts they were her own. “I’m not going to deny that what I did was bad because I have to take responsibility for my actions,” she says.

Alexandra, who was “historically left-wing”, was first drawn to 4Chan when she became frustrated with the “self-righteousness” of the website Tumblr, favoured by liberal teens. Although she frequented the site's board for talking about anime, /a/, not /pol/, she found neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs were spread there too. 

“I was just like really fed up with the far left,” she says, “There was a lot of stuff I didn't like, like blaming males for everything.” From this, Alexandra became anti-feminist and this is how she was incrementally exposed to anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. This parallels the story of many radicalised males on 4Chan, who turn to the site from hatred of feminists or indeed, all women. 

 “What I was doing was racist, like I – deep down I didn't really fully believe it in my heart, but the seeds of doubt were sowed again and it was a way to fit in. Like, if you don't regurgitate their opinions exactly they’ll just bully you and run you off.”

King’s life changed in prison, where Jamaican inmates befriended her and she was forced to reassess her worldview. Alexandra now considers herself “basically” free from prejudices, but says trying to rid herself of extreme beliefs is like “detoxing from drugs”. She began questioning 4Chan when she first realised that they genuinely wanted Donald Trump to become president. “I thought that supporting Trump was just a dumb meme on the internet,” she says.

Nowadays, King dedicates her life to helping young people escape from far-right extremism. "Those of us who were involved a few decades ago we did not have this type of technology, cell phones were not the slim white phones we have today, they were giant boxes," she says. "With the younger individuals who contact us who grew up with this technology, we're definitely seeing people who initially stumbled across the violent far-right online and the same holds for men and women.

"Instead of having to be out in public in a giant rally or Klan meeting, individuals find hate online."

* Name has been changed

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Behind the mask