Lowering the tone

Incitement against the president, who seeks to represent all citizens, must be halted wherever it appears.

December 15, 2015 22:41
3 minute read.

Obama and Rivlin at the White House Hanukka Reception.. (photo credit: screenshot)

The level of discourse in Israel is reaching hysterical and dangerous proportions. The events surrounding Sunday’s political conference sponsored by Haaretz and the US-based New Israel Fund is a good example.

Most of the hysteria centered around the issue of one of the conference speakers, former chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat and the Israeli flag. A previous speaker, President Reuven Rivlin, requested from the organizers that an Israeli flag be stationed next to the podium during his speech. When it came time for Erekat’s speech, he asked that the flag be removed.

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The Solomonic solution would have been to place a Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli one. Doing so would have conveyed respect to Erekat without giving the impression that the State of Israel is an obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the organizers acquiesced to Erekat’s demand and removed the flag. (An Israeli flag on the backdrop of the stage, it should be noted, remained in place during Erekat’s speech.) Knesset members made political hay of the issue and blasted Haaretz, as is their democratic right. It’s convenient to slam low-hanging targets like Haaretz and Erekat for actions that are indeed offensive and would never take place at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York or The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem.

But in doing so, they missed the bigger, and much more alarming story surrounding the conference – the level of incitement against Rivlin.

The president has been roundly castigated by right-wing critics for agreeing to address the conference because one of the participants was Breaking the Silence, an organization that provides a platform for former IDF soldiers who claim to have experienced unethical conduct against Palestinian civilians during their military service.

While criticism of the president’s opinions and actions are legitimate in Israel’s democracy, the verbal attacks on Rivlin in recent days have crossed the line separating legitimate criticism from hateful incitement.

On Monday, MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) appeared before the Knesset plenum and voiced his concern that the life of the president might be in danger.

Hasson claimed that incitement against Rivlin has been published by citizens on the Facebook pages of a number of government ministers, including the Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Though the ministers are not themselves responsible for the comments, they have done nothing to remove them from the Facebook page, Hasson claimed.

On Netanyahu’s official Facebook page under a picture of the prime minister with Ouda Tarabin, the Beduin Israeli released this week from an Egyptian prison after 15 years, one commenter wrote: “Bibi, send Rivlin to Egypt for 15 years.” Another wrote, referring to Rivlin: “That isn’t a president, that is a garbage bin waiting to be thrown out.”

A check by the Post revealed that since Hasson’s warnings in the Knesset, the posts were removed from Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

Right-leaning Channel 20 also posted against Rivlin on its Facebook page, criticizing him for participating in Haaretz’s conference. “As a president, he cannot spit in the face of IDF soldiers,” it said. The post was referring to the fact that Breaking the Silence participated in the same conference, even though Rivlin himself strongly defended the IDF and its soldiers in his keynote address.

“Our soldiers defend our country, and we will do everything to defend them and to stand shoulder to shoulder along with them,” he said.

Incitement against Rivlin is not a new phenomenon. In August, police opened an investigation into death threats against Rivlin after he spoke out against Jewish terrorism in the wake of the firebombing of the Dawabshe family house in the Palestinian village of Duma that left three dead and a four-year-old child in serious condition.

The prime minister, cabinet ministers, public figures and the media have a moral obligation to speak out against incitement, particularly when it is published on their Facebook pages.

Incitement against the president, who seeks to represent all citizens, must be halted wherever it appears. The assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin 20 years ago taught us that words of hate can have lethal consequences.

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