Holy warriors and Jewish Jihad: Diaspora Jews in the IDF

Francis Carr Begbie


It was while on a school visit to a Nazi concentration camp site in Poland that a north London schoolboy called Max Compton underwent the religious awakening that would change his life.

Filled with Zionist enthusiasm, eighteen-year-old Max decided to leave England and join the Israel Defence Force and defend his homeland and his people.  His strongly Jewish family backed him all the way and as his mum recounted later, his swearing-in ceremony at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem was “an extremely emotional and proud experience”.

And so it was that young Max was recruited into one of the most notorious units in the Israeli army, the Givati Brigade. The “Givatis’” are one of Israel’s most aggressive front-line combat units, and proud of their hard-line reputation. Their name often comes up in connection with contentious and unjustified actions such as the shootings of Palestinian teenagers.

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Max Compton is just one of around 100 British Jews (and around 1000 American Jews) who are serving with the IDF. Under a process known as Mahal, non-Israeli Jews from anywhere in the world can sign-up, and there is financial support for the hundreds who flock to Israel for a typical 20-month stint.

All of which raises an interesting question, for while home grown Muslim jihadists who travel to Syria are criminalized, pursued by the police and denounced by the government, UK Jews who join the Israel Defence Force are exempt from any censure whatsoever. Why is there one rule for the Muslims who go on Jihad and another for the Jews?

There nothing covert about Jewish Jihad. From her home in the London suburbs Max’s mother Mrs Camille Compton helps run a widely publicised support group, Mahal Mums, who have their own webpage and Facebook group and openly canvas for support from their own community.

The question of Mahal is a delicate matter for the Jewish community and is rarely mentioned in the media. In theory it is illegal, as serving for foreign forces is forbidden under the Foreign Enlistment Act from 1870, although this has never been tested in court.

The Jihadi Jews are given a pass because, nominally at least, Israel is both an ally with the trappings of a secular Western democracy in contrast to the unabashed medieval savagery of ISIS.

The problem with this is embodied in the shape of Max’s commanding officer. Colonel Ofer Winter is as much a holy warrior as army officer, and in a letter to his troops before the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, he felt moved to tell them — effectively — that they were to be the instruments of God’s terrible wrath on the enemies of Israel.

Strewn with Biblical references, it was a missive that might have been penned by Oliver Cromwell in one of his less forgiving moods. Colonel Winter wrote:

History has chosen us to be the sharp edge of the bayonet of fighting the terrorist enemy “from Gaza” which curses, defames and abuses the God of Israel’s battles…. I turn my eyes to the sky and call with you “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” God, the Lord of Israel, make our path successful, as we are about to fight for Your People, Israel, against an enemy who defames your name.

During Operation Protective Edge, the Givati Brigade met stiff resistance in the West Bank town of Rafah. A major and sergeant were killed and a lieutenant was captured.

It seems that a decision was made to make an example of Rafah and on a day to be known as “Black Friday,” the unit moved into the Palestinian town and embarked on what Israeli sources admitted was “the most aggressive military action of its type ever carried out by the IDF.”

The indiscriminate air, artillery and infantry onslaught took place without even the usual cursory warning to civilians and when the dust settled, at least 160 lay dead under the rubble and many more had been grievously maimed and wounded.

In the eyes of many, this has reinforced Colonel Winter’s reputation as a bloodthirsty religious maniac. He has also has been accused by one Jewish blogger of leading his Givatis’ into carrying out another massacre in a fearful episode that led to him being dubbed the “Butcher of Khuzaa”.

Colonel Winter may be loved by his troops and adored by his many fans in the Orthodox community as a Zionist warrior. But he is also something of an embarrassment. The civilians corpses he leaves in his wake — and the attendant publicity — are bad for business. Not that the Israeli military care about civilian casualties, but they do recognise the value of good PR. It is far from the image of the measured, secular, “most moral, most humane military in the world” that they wish to project. The problem with Colonel Winter is that he does reveal the reality of the IDF behind the smooth publicity machine.

Up until recently the British media have largely stayed away from the double standard of Jihadi Jews and home-grown Islamic warriors. Then the editor of a small circulation British academic journal called Anthropology Today  which is produced by the Royal Anthropological Institute,  ran an article on it in the April, 2015 edition.

The article is called “Three Jihads — Islamic, Christian and Jewish” and examines the phenomenon of believers from each of the three faiths who embark on holy war

It draws attention to the double standard over dual loyalty and notes that the religious intensity of the Jihadists is emphasised while that of the Jewish foreign fighters is ignored.

Professor Laura Nader of the University of California–Berkeley, is cited describing Jewish foreign recruits as “indoctrinated” to hate the Palestinians and that the Holocaust is used to justify Israel’s actions.

Professor Nader, who is of Lebanese extraction, writes: “Today around 100 British nationals are serving in the Israeli army, supported by proud British mothers, however the April 2014 British report on counter-terrorism does not include as….threat the indoctrinated British citizens returning home from service in the Israeli military, since the UK is already an ally of Israel.”

She continues: “The Mahal network of jihadists were taking part in the Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip last summer, which resulted in the death of so many innocent Palestinian civilians.”

She mentions a BBC TV programme which looked at the rise of military rabbis in the Israeli defence Forces. “According to this programme, military rabbis played a prominent role in Israel’s invasion of Gaza [in 2014]…, side by side with civilian rabbis, thereby, they argue, making the war holier, making the army better — ‘more moral’. Some reserve military think this change is dangerous because once it is a holy war ‘there are no limits’.

The BBC report stated:

Israel’s army is changing. Once proudly secular, its combat units are now filling with those who believe Israel’s wars are “God’s wars”.

Military rabbis are becoming more powerful. Trained in warfare as well as religion, new army regulations mean they are now part of a military elite.

They graduate from officer’s school and operate closely with military commanders. One of their main duties is to boost soldiers’ morale and drive, even on the front line. (2009)

All of this prompts the question; with Israel drifting in a relentlessly Orthodox direction and the military being filled with religious fervour, what exactly is the difference between the Jewish Jihadis as opposed to the Muslim variety?

Of Birthright (Israel) trips she says they “recruit youngsters to visit a fantasy Israel where they receive instruction on Zionism.” On these trips, she says “visitors learn to hate the enemy, the Palestinians”.

Professor Nader goes on to write that “For Judaism, extremism is justified as a result of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and the right of return”; and further: “Islamic jihad has some contemporary parallels in Judaism.”

It is a calm and measured article but the airing of this sensitive issue in public has predictably incurred the wrath of the British Board of Jewish Deputies in the shape of Vice-President Jonathan Arkush who could barely contain his indignation and claimed there were inaccuracies but strangely did not point them out.

“The piece was grotesquely distorted and inaccurate and we are at a complete loss to understand how the journal thought it fit to publish,” he said. “We are currently investigating what further action to take.”

Jewish News  went on to quote one Jewish anthropologist, who preferred to remain anonymous: “This is the first time that I have come across such blatant anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli vitriol in a RAI publication.”

Up until now Israel has enjoyed virtual immunity for its actions in the Gaza and West Bank, but that is all set to change for on April 1, Palestine formally joined the International Criminal Court.

The Palestinians have already said that one of their first actions will be to bring war crimes charges against senior Givati Brigade officers for the atrocities committed under Operation Protective Edge.

The possibility of having Colonel Winter brought before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague has concentrated minds wonderfully in the Israeli government. Spectacular buck-passing and in-fighting seems to have already broken out. The Jerusalem Post has reported on the impact: “A bombshell has fallen within the ranks, turning military commanders and lawyers against each other on a possibly unprecedented level.”

It’s not surprising then, that Israel has retaliated against the Palestinians by withholding tax revenue collected for the Palestinian government.

Back in the leafy streets of the prosperous London borough of Barnet, Mrs Camille Compton could be forgiven for feeling concerned.

After all, having your son attached to a war crimes tribunal charge, however tangentially, is bound to dampen the spirits of what was meant to be a triumphant homecoming.

But if it is any consolation, they can spare a thought for the parents of Mashudur Choudhury, a Portsmouth man who was one of six who travelled to Syria in 2013, all intending to martyr themselves. Four succeeded. On his return Choudhury was arrested by counter-terrorism officers and jailed for four years.

All of this is extremely hard to fathom for ordinary White British people. They were never asked whether they wanted either of these alien groups and their conflicts in this country just as they were never asked whether they wanted their country transformed out of recognition. But of course, as far as Britain’s elites are concerned, their views don’t count.

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