It was a news story that was overshadowed by the ongoing judicial drama, but it cast a long sinister shadow of its own.
It started with an uproar surrounding a post on X (formerly Twitter) that portrayed OC Central Command Maj-Gen. Yehuda Fox as a mustached Hitler look-alike against the background of the Nazi flag. “Yehuda Fox is a dictatorial tyrant who uses dictatorial measures to silence those who publish criticism of him,” the post stated.
Fox has come under fire recently from the Right and some residents of Judea and Samaria who have accused him of not doing enough to crack down on the wave of deadly terrorist attacks in the area.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid was among those who immediately condemned the “venomous and evil attacks” on Fox “and the IDF in general.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the incitement and expressed his full support of the Central Command head. In addition, Netanyahu ordered an investigation into the tweet.
What the investigation revealed is the heart of the story. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) found that the user profile Ella Levi, where the post originally appeared, was fake. But it wasn’t a disgruntled Israeli hiding behind a false social media identity. According to the Shin Bet, “There is a high likelihood that the fictitious profile is the work of Iranian elements,” deliberately trying to sow the seeds of chaos.
The national security agency said: “Iran has been waging a campaign on the Internet for some time aimed at dividing the Israeli public and undermining its stability, and it seems that the image [of Fox as Hitler] is part of that campaign.”
The conclusion is doubly frightening. Not only is the Islamic Republic trying to interfere and foment hatred, but the post is a sign that it knows the Jewish state well enough to do it. Disseminating fake news to set people against each other is an underestimated weapon. It’s more subtle than the Palestinian shooting attacks in Judea and Samaria and elsewhere, but it is dangerous nonetheless – and no doubt Israel’s enemies were hoping it could eventually lead to bloodshed.
It is tragic and telling that the post seemed credible. During this past year of fights over the government’s judicial reform we have become used to redlines being crossed or erased altogether. The once-famous resilience that got the Israeli public through wars, waves of terrorism, and other disasters has been seriously damaged.
The Iranian social media campaign – psychological warfare – is an indication of time and effort invested in research and targeting. They needn’t have bothered. We’ve been doing such a great job of tearing ourselves apart that the Iranians could have sat back and watched from the sidelines in keeping with their famous characteristic of patience.
Whoever posted the image knew that the Nazi allusion would trigger a response, although lately it has been bandied around with horrendous contempt.
Shikma Bressler at the Nahalal Conference for Democracy
Just last Friday, protest movement leader Shikma Bressler – someone who was largely unknown to the Israeli public this time last year – used the “Nazi” word at the first Nahalal Conference for Democracy. Bressler denounced attempts to negotiate with the coalition on the judicial reform saying, “It’s forbidden to speak to Nazis, regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.”
She obviously felt enough at home at Nahalal, the moshav that symbolizes the Ashkenazi old guard Zionist movement, to use that kind of terminology and nobody present voiced even a reservation about her comparison of the elected government to Nazis.
It was only after a social media backlash when her comments were shared that Bressler apologized saying that “mistakes can be made in the fight for the country.” “I used a word that has no place in the discourse. I regret and apologize for this statement.” She was happy to move on and the mainstream media – which has largely backed the protest movement through its more than 35 weeks of demonstrations, road closures, and days of paralysis and disruption – was happy to help her get over the hiccup.
Bressler was not alone. She was in good – or bad – company, depending on your outlook. Bressler’s comments followed close on the heels of an interview given by former Mossad head Tamir Pardo to the Associated Press in which he claimed that Israel is implementing an “apartheid state” policy against Palestinians in the West Bank. His comments were factually flawed and particularly outrageous from someone who should know better – and should also know the damage that his words could cause.
Curiously, Pardo did not seem to have qualms about holding the Mossad top spot when he was appointed by Netanyahu, but now in the desire to bring down Netanyahu and his government, anything goes – even if it fuels the conflict and delegitimizes Israel.
Incidentally, among the petitioners against the government’s judicial reform are IDF veterans who fear that it will weaken the standing of the Israeli courts and lead to former soldiers and officers being (falsely) arrested abroad for perceived crimes. Pardo’s propaganda probably caused more damage in this respect than the restriction of the reasonableness clause, which came under the scrutiny of an expanded 15-member bench of High Court justices this week.
Calling for international intervention in Israel’s domestic crisis has become a bon ton. According to a Walla report, last Friday thousands of Israeli academics, writers, and artists sent letters to US President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanding that they not meet Netanyahu or give him a platform in the UN during his expected visit next week. These Israeli intellectuals have effectively joined the BDS movement.
With friends like that, who needs fake Iranian bots?
The Jewish year just ending has been a very trying one in Israel. Instead of civil discourse there was talk fostering civil war; hi-tech entrepreneurs and businesspeople spoke of taking their assets out of the country trying to create financial havoc as a means to apply pressure on the government; doctors went on strike and threatened to emigrate en masse; universities, cultural centers, banks, shopping malls, commercial chains, and even the airport closed down in wildcat actions. And security was seriously compromised when pilots and other reservists, mainly from elite units, declared they would not be serving under this government: Self-proclaimed “Brothers-in-Arms” figuratively pointed their weapons at the elected leaders.
The award for the most striking protest dress code goes to the women dressed as characters from the dystopic The Handmaid’s Tale, wearing red capes and white bonnets – scaring themselves with their own scare tactics.
Altogether there seems to be an effort among the disparate elements of the protest movement to constantly raise the rhetoric and fuel fears. It’s the only way to maintain relevance and media coverage. There can be no cause for celebration, only denigration.
When the Tel Aviv Metro light rail was launched last month after years of costly construction, it was met with protests that it won’t be operating on Shabbat and protests against perceived possible future religious discrimination. Meantime, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has warned the Rosh Yehudi movement – which every year holds Yom Kippur prayers in Dizengoff Square open to all worshipers – that it would not be given a permit this time if it places a partition separating men from women in keeping with Orthodox Jewish practice.
It is the municipality that is dividing people instead of allowing them to come together in prayer on the holiest day of the year.
Which brings me back to Bressler’s comments: Because of her atrocious Nazi comparison, something else was overlooked. Bressler was in effect turning down any attempt at unity and compromise. But no matter where you stand regarding the judicial reform/overhaul one thing is clear: Israel cannot afford to continue in a state of chaos – homegrown or fostered by hostile elements.
As the Jewish New Year starts on Friday night, phrases from the Sephardi liturgy recited on the eve of Rosh Hashanah seem particularly pertinent: “Tikhleh shanah v’kileloteha,” “Tahel shanah u’virkoteha.” May this year and its curses end. May the year and its blessings begin.
And may we stop bringing curses on our own house.