Us or them. That is the message Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued pushing on Sunday, in his comments against those in the opposition who dared to criticize the controversial Nation-State Law he championed just a week ago.
In his remarks – at the start of the cabinet meeting – Netanyahu revealed the real motivation behind his desire to enact the law and his dismissal of warnings that it would anger Israel’s two million Arab citizens and cause outrage and criticism around the world: It is all about politics.
On Sunday, Netanyahu delivered a passionate defense of the law, explaining the need for the legislation that enshrines Israel as the nation-state for the Jewish people. But then he launched a frontal attack on the law’s critics and his real target: the Left.
For decades, Netanyahu said, the opposition preached the need to withdraw from the West Bank to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state. “So now suddenly, when we legislate a law that does just that, they cry out in protest on the Left,” he said. “What hypocrisy.”
To drive home his point, he added: “The attacks from Leftist circles, which define themselves as Zionists, are absurd and reveal the depths to which the Left has fallen
This, it seems, is the true reason Netanyahu wanted the law passed. Not because there was a need to define Israel as the Jewish state or to cement in legislation Israel’s state symbols – all important objectives – but rather because he wanted to draw a line between “us and them,” between the Right and the Left, and between the patriots and the unfaithful.
Netanyahu is one of Israel’s greatest political operators. He knew there would be criticism of the law, and he knew that he could have prevented it had he agreed to add language similar to what appears in the Declaration of Independence, which promises equal rights for all inhabitants of Israel irrespective of religion, race or sex.
But Netanyahu preferred to sow division like he often does on various issues. This is the same reason why he plays up security threats. He wants Israelis to believe that without him at the helm, they would be weak and vulnerable. Hamas would fire rockets mercilessly, Iran would obtain nuclear weapons and ISIS would be climbing the border fence with Syria.
It is part of his long-running message why he and no one else can run the country: only he can protect Israel; only he can ensure that it retains its Jewish character. Netanyahu sows this division since it empowers him. It provides him with political ammunition and plays into a narrative – which he has worked hard to push – that the Left is full of traitors, while on the Right there are only loyalists and patriots.
Netanyahu knows that this rhetoric is damaging, domestically in Israel but also around the world, where even the strongest pro-Israel activists were unable to defend the Nation-State Law.
The Druze can complain, the Israeli Arabs can demonstrate, and the American Jewish community can protest. It all makes no difference.
Sadly, what we have seen this past week is just the curtain raiser to what can be expected once an election is officially announced. Then we will bear witness to the same Netanyahu who, ahead of the 2015 elections, portrayed the Zionist Union as ISIS; compared Israel Broadcasting Authority workers to Hamas terrorists; and vowed never to establish a Palestinian state – in direct contradiction to his earlier commitments.
Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people or Druze feeling like equal citizens in the country are all of less importance. In Netanyahu’s world, it is all about drawing lines between “us and them.”
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