JERUSALEM – Igniting a public uproar, some Jewish settlers said Tuesday they will soon start wearing orange stars on their shirts in a provocative campaign comparing the government's Gaza withdrawal plan to the Nazi Holocaust.
The announcement was the latest escalation in the settlers' drive to block the pullout. On Monday, settler leaders called for mass resistance against the withdrawal — even if it means going to jail.
Settler activists in Gaza said they would distribute the orange stars — reminiscent of the yellow stars that Jews living under Nazi rule were forced to wear — this weekend.
"I want to raise my voice to show that this is illegitimate, to shake the people of Israel to their core," Arieh Tzur, a resident of the Ganei Tal settlement, told Israel Army Radio. Tsur, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said survivors who live in the Gaza settlements support the effort.
Even so, the campaign touched a raw nerve in Israel, which gained independence in 1948 in the wake of the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews. An estimated 250,000 survivors live in Israel, and any mention of the Holocaust in a public forum remains an extremely sensitive subject.
The comparison dominated public debate Tuesday. Images of a Gaza woman wearing the star on her lapel ran on the front page of one Israeli newspaper, and Israeli radio shows discussed the settler campaign nonstop.
"This is a very troubling comparison," Shevah Weiss (search), a Holocaust survivor and former parliament speaker, told Israel's Army Radio.
The Nazis put Jews "into gas chambers, killing them, crushing their bones, spreading the remains in great piles all over Europe," he said. "What is going on here?"
The settler campaign was condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (search), a human rights group that focuses on Holocaust issues, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
"The plan to wear orange stars perverts the historical facts and damages the memory of the Shoah," said Yad Vashem's director Avner Shalev, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. He urged the settlers to refrain from using the stars.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) plans to withdraw from Gaza and small parts of the West Bank next year. After spearheading the settlement movement for decades, Sharon says the continued occupation of Gaza, where 8,000 settlers live amid 1.3 million Palestinians, is untenable.
For months, the settlers tried to fight the plan through political means. However, Sharon has outflanked them, forcing them to turn to tougher tactics.
On Monday, settler leaders endorsed a call by a prominent leader to resist the withdrawal — even if it means going to jail.
"The proposal to expel Jews from their homes is an immoral decision and a breach of human rights," said Bentsi Lieberman, head of the Yesha Settlers Council.
It was the first time the settler leaders have publicly advocated breaking the law. The withdrawal plan includes jail sentences for settlers who refuse to leave their homes.
Lieberman said the settlers oppose violence and would not use force against soldiers involved in the evacuation. But others, including President Moshe Katsav, worried the resistance could turn violent.
In 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (search) was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist Jew opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.
Israeli security officials have warned of the likelihood of violence, and believe there are several dozen settler activists who could carry out attacks.
Israel's police chief, Moshe Karadi, said Monday the Gaza evacuation will be much harder than Israel's pullout from the Sinai peninsula two decades ago. That pullout, part of Israel's peace accord with Egypt, led to violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and settlers in the Sinai.
"This greater difficulty is because the settlement in Gush Katif is completely ideological, based on faith," Karadi said in a speech. "The evacuation will be hard to execute, but if it is not (done), this will be dangerous for Israeli democracy."
Many analysts said the settlers are growing increasingly desperate as their options for blocking the withdrawal dry up.
"This is what we can expect to see in the coming months: a furious hurt community, some of which has despaired and is prepared to take any violent action, and a leadership that is forced to line up behind the threats of the militants," commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily.
"This is a dangerous game of brinksmanship, and judging by past experience, is liable to end in disaster," he said.