Yonatan Stern interviewed by Gilad Atzmon
After the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, I posted a short news item about Cherev Gidon, an ‘Israeli Tactical Training Academy’ in Pennsylvania. The Israeli-style military school teaches American Jews some of the IDF commando’s essential manoeuvres. Yonatan Stern, Cherev Gidon’s founder, contacted me a day later. He said that my report had been balanced. He wrote an open and intellectually engaging note. I replied, asking whether he would agree to an interview. We met earlier this week in a kosher pizzeria in Monticello, a small town in the Catskills of New York.
Those who follow my work know that despite my sharp disagreements with Zionism, Israeli politics and West Bank setters in particular, I find more honesty in Right Wing Zionism than in the entire spectrum of the Jewish Identitarian Left. Although I probably agree on many crucial political matters with JVP activists and Mondoweiss readers, I see the Jewish left as an inherently duplicitous project. My point is that notwithstanding my almost complete ideological differences with right wing Zionists, their frankness about their principles allow our disagreements to be honestly debated. Unlike the Jewish Left that speaks of universal principles but thinks and acts tribally, the Jewish nationalist position is as coherent as it is immoral.
At the Kosher pizza place in Monticello, I met a nice and friendly young man. Yonatan’s political views were well developed: authentic, rational and totally consistent with his core beliefs. He had no gated enclaves, no ‘no go’ zones that he attempted to keep out of our discussion.
Yonatan was born about 100 miles outside of New York City, not far from where we were in the Catskill mountains. His parents made Aliyah when he was a child. The family settled in Kiryat Arbah, in what was probably the most radicalised, belligerent West Bank settlement. The second Intifada caught Yonatan when he was 16 years old. He was practically living in a war zone for the next seven years, and according to him, it was this extended experience that shaped his worldview. “I spent my formative years from ages 16 to 23 in Hebron during the 2nd intifada. You saw gun battles day after day, you saw people being hit.” In his early twenties, Yonatan left Israel and returned to the United States.
In a recent Israeli TV interview, Yonatan explained that he was motivated to form an Israeli military training school in America by the March in Charlottesville. The chants of “Jews won’t replace us” reminded him of the rise of the Nazis. But he doesn’t like the leftists either. The Antifa evokes in him bad memories of Stalin’s antisemitsm. So I asked Yonatan why Jewish history repeats itself. How is it possible that Jews are once again opposed by both the right and the left? The ex settler’s answer may take some readers by surprise.
“In your work” he said, “you, Gilad, argue that Jews need to do introspection. Rather than saying ‘the world hates us,’ we should ask whether there is anything we are doing to provoke this antisemitsm. This is an essential question that Jews both left and right refuse to ask themselves. It is the one question you [Gilad] ask, it is the one question I ask.”
I was thrilled that Yonatan was familiar with my writings. I mentioned that I didn’t invent this question. The theme was thoroughly explored by early Zionists who tried to grasp the logos in the anti-Semitic argument.
“There is a very good reason history repeats itself,” Yonatan continued. “Antisemitsm is not about evil goyim who want to kill us. A lot of Antisemitsm is a result of actions Jews take which cause antisemitsm. We cannot effectively counter antisemitsm just by the ADL shaming people who say things about Jews, I don’t support this approach at all. I believe in freedom of speech. I don’t even support laws against holocaust denial and as a grandson of a holocaust survivor I know how real the holocaust was… I believe that Jews play a large part in antisemitsm and in order to fight antisemitsm we have to fight it in two ways and I am fighting it in both ways: I am reacting physically to the symptoms but I also try to challenge the basis of antisemitsm by speaking out, telling Jews that the root of a lot of antisemitsm in America is the adoption by many Jews in the last century of multi-culturalism, leftism, socialism, cultural Marxism, communism, all these evil ideologies of the left which started with Karl Marx and even before him. All these ideologues corrupted Jews to the core.”
Yonatan is clearly not a liberal Jew.
“You, Gilad, speak about Jewish exceptionalism. We [Jews] are supposed to be a light to the nations, but we do the opposite… When Jews promote open borders they actually undermine the nations in which they live. When the average white Christian American sees Jews pushing for thousands of Islamic terrorists and Somali refugees and Latin American criminals and members of cartels to come into the country and pushing for affirmative action and a homosexual agenda and they do all of it in the name of Judaism… What they do, they tell people , ‘this is Judaism, we exploit your gratitude, we are coming to your country, we are undermining it from within, [we] cause the country to collapse on itself and if you call us ‘dirty Jews’ we will say you are a ‘filthy anti-Semitic Nazi’.”
Yonatan, an ultra Zionist Jew, is presenting what many liberals may identify as the core right wing anti-Semitic argument. Although it would be practically impossible for a goy to survive after making such statements, I somehow don’t think that Yonatan suffers any form of exclusion for saying what he thinks about his people.
“You seem to have predicted the synagogue shooting; you saw it coming, how?” I asked him.
“For decades now so many liberal Jews have been pushing for cultural Marxism. So many Jewish political leaders are behind this. The movement is funded by George Soros who is clearly a Jew. But I consider him the opposite of a Jew. I see him as a malevolent force and other Jews who are in government and the Left … all of it really started with Saul Alinsky who set the foundation for the Antifa. They have been pushing it for 50 years. Of course, not all Jews subscribe to these ideas. There are many orthodox Jews who believe in the complete opposite. But because these people do it in the name of Judaism [so naturally] we all get pushed into the same boat. It was obvious that at some point somebody would snap…. the only question was when.. someone on the right would have to take action to respond to what they see as an assault on American heritage.”
Yonatan asked to make it clear that he was by no means justifying the attack on the synagogue. What he did, instead, was to attempt to understand the rationale that led to the Pittsburgh attack. Yonatan further predicted that “the next attack will come from the Left. They are very violent, subversive in the spirit Lenin and Trotsky.”
In the Israeli TV item about Cherev Gidon, Yonatan mentioned that the goal of his training unit is for “every synagogue to have an armed Jew ready to defend it.” I asked Yonatan if he believes that American Muslims should be entitled to explore the same right. Should they also train with submachine guns and automatic riffles and be ready to defend their mosques?
As you might expect, Yonatan wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea. “If they [the Muslims] were peaceful people yes, but the reality is that they, through their own actions, are showing us that they are not a peaceful people for the most part. There is a tremendous radicalism amongst Muslims these days.”
I challenged him again. “Let’s try to understand what is going on here. You clearly see yourself as entitled to enjoy the 2nd amendment but you think Muslims are not.”
“In regard to Muslims as a group, once they are in a mosque in America and across the West they are extremely radicalized, they use armaments for the purpose of terrorism and not for the purpose of self defense. We have to understand the difference, Judaism is not a religion that is looking to attack anyone.”
I told Yonatan that his statement can be easily challenged: Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli physician, a settler and an orthodox Jew like himself, was a mass shooter in 1994 at the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounding 125. Goldstein didn’t use his automatic riffle for ‘self defense.’ Nor is the Jewish State deploying its F16s and drones in a ‘self defense’ mode in Gaza, Lebanon or Syria. Statistics of casualties in the region do not really help the Israeli or the Jewish case.
I asked Yonatan, “Do you want to live in a society where people defend their shrines with sub machine guns and automatic rifles?”
“Yes, absolutely,” was Yonatan’s answer; “an armed society is a polite society.”
“So you basically believe that it is a good idea to live in a society where people are armed to their teeth?”
“I think that it is a wonderful idea. This is the America I want to live in. People respect each other when everyone is armed.”
Since Yonatan was immersed in part of the American ethos, I wanted to examine his approach to the American ideals of equal opportunity and no discrimination. “Will you agree to train Hammed or Ibrahim and to share with them the deep secrets of Israeli tactics?”
Yonatan was absolutely clear. “I have the right to deny service to anyone I want…I train many non Jews, what you may call rednecks, Mexicans, but if a Jewish Lefty, a Jew member of Antifa, asks to join my course I will tell him as well to go away.”
I guess that Hamed and Ibrahim aren’t going to be amongst Cherev Gidon’s graduates. They may have to enrol in another military training gymnasium.
Before we ended, I asked Yonatan, “Are you an American who happens to be a Jew, or are you what early Zionist Chaim Weizmann defined as ‘a Jew who lives in America?’”
“I don’t define it as either. I am first and foremost a Jew, I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew. Nothing will ever come before that. This is my children’s identity as it was my grandparents’ identity when they walked into Auschwitz. But in terms of my nationality, I am American, this is my country, this is the country that has given me the freedom to do what I do, to be successful in my career, to defend myself. Israel didn’t give me that right.”
At that stage, there was a necessary question remaining. “Would you consider fighting for America?”
“If this country needed me, absolutely.”