As is customary ahead of Tu Bishvat, Israelis have begun planting trees in honor of the transition from winter to spring. But the traditionally cheerful endeavor was marred on Tuesday, exactly a week before the actual date of the agricultural/spiritual-Jewish festival, by an Arab protest in the Negev.
The excuse for the demonstration, which turned violent, was the clearing of land in the Moleda area of the region to make way for the saplings. Resident Bedouin responded to the event by throwing rocks at police officers deployed to protect representatives of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, the group that organized the happening.
Some angry Arabs also threw rocks at cars on the adjacent highway, blocked a train and set a vehicle on fire. Two policemen were reported wounded in the fray, and 18 rioters were arrested.
Thankfully, few people were seriously hurt. The episode itself was more than painful, however, as the protest against the tree-planting in the Negev was led by the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, which is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government.
Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas even threatened to stop voting with his coalition partners if the planting in the “disputed land” continues.
It’s not surprising that the Islamist faction head’s newfound place at the proverbial table and accompanying hefty budget have emboldened him to call dibs on the Negev, a key constituency. Sadly, it was even less of a shock that Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan, from the far-left Meretz Party, sided with the anti-tree-planters.
ON A visit to the protest tent in Moleda on Tuesday evening, Golan not only expressed solidarity with Arab opposition to the planting of trees on land they claim is the property of the local al-Atrash clan; he went way beyond that, calling for the release of those arrested for violent activities.
To loud applause from his grateful audience, he said, “I’m telling you that I’m going to [do my bit for you] from inside the government; you’ll do it from out in the field. We’ll calm things down... and quickly create a process at the end of which you’ll have a proper budget for the Bedouin community in the Negev.”
He added: “You know, government means budgets. There are plans [in place]. And I promise you... these won’t be merely on paper. That’s the way I work with the entire Arab sector, the Druze sector, etc. I coordinate all the Economy Ministry’s programs for [you]; I conduct discussions every month... and work with other ministries to verify that the money goes out [to you].”
He stressed, “I’m telling you that the current government is one of opportunity – an opportunity that must not be missed... I have faith in all the Bedouin leaders here in the Negev. [We] have to do things with discretion, with responsibility. Talk to me, as well, before taking any action... We’ll consult. We’ll think. It’s always preferable to count to 10 and do the right things. But we won’t miss the opportunity that we have now...”
This announcement that Tu Bishvat tree-planting in southern Israel should be halted and detainees released was nothing new for Golan. Nor was his Bedouin-tent performance the most egregious display of his twisted loyalties.
IN STARK contrast to his heartfelt speech to the Bedouin, he lashed out last week at Jews protesting plans to demolish the Homesh Yeshiva in northern Samaria and pleading with the government to rebuild the settlement that was destroyed there in 2005, after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
“These are not people; they’re sub-humans; they’re despicable,” Golan said in an interview with the Knesset Channel, a few days after the IDF accused some settlers of “vandalizing property and burning Palestinian flags on the outskirts of the village of Burqa.”
He went on to sneer that the settlers “are now shouting [that plans to evacuate them are] a ‘shame’ and a ‘disgrace,’ yet failing to mention that they’ve been carrying out a pogrom [against Palestinians]. We, the Jewish people, who have suffered from pogroms throughout history, are now conducting pogroms against others.”
In response to the ensuing outcry from various politicians – among them Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who called his coalition partner’s depiction “shocking, insulting and bordering on blood libel” – Golan issued a poor excuse for an apology.
“I was referring to those who desecrate graves, attack innocent people and destroy property,” he clarified in a tweet. “What is the right way to deal with such people? What are the right words to call them? It’s time to tell the truth: This isn’t our Judaism.”
He subsequently told Channel 12 that he “regretted the use of what was perhaps an unfortunate choice of words [that were slightly] incorrect in connotation and context.”
A better term might have been “lowly rioters,” he said, before pulling the perfect trick of alluding to his military credentials.
“I have fought terrorism throughout my entire adult life,” he said. “I don’t need to be taught what it is to fight terrorism. I think [Israel’s] internal danger is greater than its external one.”
THE FORMER deputy IDF chief certainly got that right: Israelis in high positions who invoke Holocaust imagery to describe their Jewish countrymen are definitely perilous to the state, as they legitimize its demonization on the part of enemies both within and beyond its meager borders.
Luckily, figures of Golan’s ilk are in a minority in Israel, though one wouldn’t know it these days, thanks to their resuscitation by Bennett. Indeed, had it not been for the Yamina leader’s joining of forces with Ra’am and Meretz, along with other parties to his left, Abbas and Golan would be Knesset backbenchers with little-to-no parliamentary clout.
Bennett’s outrage at Golan’s vile comments, then, is totally meaningless, as long as the two sit together in a coalition. Furthermore, Golan has a history of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.
Take, for instance, a speech he delivered more than five and a half years ago on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“If there’s something that frightens me, it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016,” Golan professed.
He wasn’t referring to the actual glimmers of pre-Nazi Germany in Europe and the United States, however. He was, rather, raising them in relation to Israel.
The Holocaust, he declared, “must make us think deeply about the responsibility of leadership, the quality of society, and it must lead us to fundamental thinking about how we, here and now, treat the stranger, the orphan and the widow, and all who are like them. There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration.”
It’s essential, he continued, for the anniversary of the genocide of the Jews to become a national day of atonement, the way in which Yom Kippur is a religious one. The sentiment of most Israelis in the face of this ludicrous indictment was that Golan should speak for himself.
The same is true today; it’s still he who could use some serious soul-searching. Ditto for the members of the government who don’t demand and receive his resignation by Tu Bishvat.