Yes, the aging right-wing extremist is wringing his weathered hands along with much of the Jewish world after last month's firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma that killed an 18-month-old boy and his father. It is personal for Etzion, 64, who said he takes "partial responsibility" for not reaching out to the young zealots "to try and straighten out their thinking," which he described as a "superficial", "childish", "distorted" and even "vulgar" interpretation of Jewish texts.
"I can hardly find words strong enough to say how I distance myself from them and reject them," Etzion said in a conversation at his home in Ofra, the West Bank settlement he helped found 40 years ago.
"Violence has no role now," he said. "On the contrary, what's needed now is some quiet, an environment for letting a seedling grow. You need conditions, and violence contradicts those conditions."
To visit with Etzion is to see at once the differences and connections between the old underground and the current crop of so-called hilltop youth, against a backdrop of an Israel growing more religious and settlements ever more entrenched.
"He's certainly a link in the chain," Tomer Persico, a Tel Aviv University expert on Jewish extremism, said of Etzion. "The '80s guys were much more ideologically sound," he added. "The new guys, they're basically anarchists. Even the few things they wrote down, you can see that their main objective is just to unravel the state and to wreak havoc."
"To say that somebody who is still working to make the biggest flames about the Temple Mount, that he changed something about his ideas, that's nonsense," Rachlevsky said. "Yehuda Etzion's ideological point of view changed? Not at all. Did his morality change? Not at all. Is he ready to blow up the confines above the rock if needed for Messianic redemption? Of course."
Born on a kibbutz to Yaffa and Avraham Mintz — a fighter in the pre-1948 Zionist paramilitary group Lehi — Yehuda changed his last name in 1968 to Etzion in homage to the first block of settlements built after Israel captured the West Bank. As a yeshiva student, he was a staple of the Gush Emunim settlement movement but was further radicalized after Israel's 1978 peace treaty with Egypt, which involved a traumatic withdrawal from Israeli settlements in the Sinai Desert.
Today, Etzion says the plot would have required 40 people to carry out, and while his group had readied huge caches of explosives, they did not even have four members prepared to follow through.
"We made a serious mistake," he said, not in wanting to destroy the dome, but in thinking 20 or 30 men "can lead a whole people in such a dramatic direction by enforcement".
"Such a huge project to be envisaged by such a small group of people is like standing a pyramid on its point," he said. "There is no alternative but to take the longer route, to work on the base of the pyramid. To make it a will of the people, an aspiration serious enough, so that the people will want to go back to their holy place and rebuild the holy temple."
Hence his devotion over the past five years to "Jerusalem Rebuilt", a book showcasing sophisticated renderings of a future city with a new temple at its core. Etzion said he has not ascended the Temple Mount in several years, after some 20 arrests by the Israeli police at the site, "because I don't restrain myself when I go, I pray a little or bow down."
"Even at my advanced age, I have not learned to respect and obey and say, 'Yes, of course', to every law that Israel creates," he said. "My criteria is the Torah of Israel."
With a biblical white beard and ruddy cheeks, Etzion wore sandals and a work shirt over his prayer fringes. He spoke in complicated, nuanced paragraphs as his wife of 40 years cooked for the Sabbath, at one point ducking in to apologize for a forthcoming noise. "That noise will soon be a cake," he noted with an eye-twinkle.
"The young people ask themselves, 'Who is the state?' Is the state on the side of the house that was built in the land of Israel, or on the side of the bulldozer that has come to destroy it?" he said. "The more the youth decide the state is the bulldozer, they say, 'I'm against,' and 'I'm ready to throw a firebomb at the bulldozer.'"