It's time to tone down the political incitement - editorial

Another political assassination in this country would be the equivalent of throwing a lit kerosene-soaked rag into a combustible house.  

MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) and other Opposition members heckle Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, 3 November 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Otzma Yehudit) and other Opposition members heckle Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, 3 November 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In June 2020, then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu filed a formal complaint with the police about a series of threats he had received to murder him and his family.

“When will the media and the Left, who do not stop for a moment trying to topple a right-wing prime minister, finally condemn the unruly and incessant incitement against me and my family?” he wrote then in a Facebook post.

Fast forward two years, and again there is “unruly and incessant incitement” against a sitting prime minister and his family. This time it is not coming from “the media and the Left,” but rather from social media and the Right.  And this time, too, it has led to threats on the life of the prime minister and his family.

The police announced on Tuesday that they would be stepping up security around Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his family following a written death threat sent to the workplace of his wife Gilat, which was ominously accompanied by a live bullet.

Again a Facebook post was uploaded by a sitting prime minister facing threats. 

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 10, 2022.  (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett handles his mask at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 10, 2022. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

“Political conflict, no matter how deep it is, should not reach violence, bullying and death threats. We need to do everything, as leaders and as citizens whose future and the future of their children are in this country, so that such phenomena simply do not exist,” Bennett wrote. 

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and Independence Day,” he continued, “I call on everyone –from all corners of the political spectrum, especially people who are active on social media – that this is a time to calm down and for reconciliation. We have one house, and we must not burn it down.``

That last line bears repeating: We have one house, and we must not burn it down. 

That is a powerful message, and one everyone must heed.

It is a message all the more poignant coming as it does during the week when the country stops and remembers the Holocaust. 

What Holocaust Remembrance Day does is force people to put things in perspective, to look back at what happened just 80 years ago, look at how Israel has emerged as a noble response to so much of that, and ask themselves: “Is what we are fighting about among ourselves today really worth the risk of burning down this house?”

And another political assassination in this country would be the equivalent of throwing a lit kerosene-soaked rag into a combustible house.  

Some on the Right derided Bennett for over-reacting to the threat,  asking why he is complaining about a death threat when Netanyahu had to weather numerous similar threats, including posters of him in a hangman’s noose, a cardboard guillotine brought to one of the many demonstrations against him, threats on social media to rape his wife. 

But they are wrong. 

Just as the threats against Netanyahu and his family were totally unacceptable and needed to be taken seriously, so too the threats against Bennett are totally unacceptable and need to be taken seriously. 

Free speech is one thing; calling for the death of the prime minister is something else entirely, something on a different plane altogether, and it needs to be expunged from any discourse. 

Calls for Bennett’s murder do not sprout out of nowhere. Rather, they grow in a toxic atmosphere, and amid a constant chorus of respectable people, politicians and commentators  calling him a liar, a scoundrel, a fake, an impostor, and a traitor. 

It is possible, even essential, to criticize the prime minister, but not this way, not with those words. This way, those words, lead to doom.

The Holocaust taught the Jews why it is so important that there be a strong, independent Jewish state.  But that strong, independent Jewish state is endangered by political violence, and the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin painfully demonstrated that the absolute worst type of political violence is possible here.

Jews are not above that; Israel is not immune to it. And it really is the match that can set the entire house alight. We all have the responsibility of ensuring that this match is never lit. What has been built here is fragile and can be undone by internecine violence fueled by irresponsible, hateful rhetoric.

Everyone, tone it down.