The Fifth Column: Incitement is coming in droves

Dangerous times are ahead and it is our duty as a society to stand up for those most in peril.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Many studies have demonstrated the connection between corruption and the erosion of human rights.
Generally, this has to do with the corrupt management of public resources, which compromises the government’s ability to deliver an array of services, including health, educational and welfare services, which are essential for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
The extent to which this takes place in Israel in the broad sense is a topic for another time.
Rather, what is becoming increasingly evident, is how the mere suspicion of corruption will itself impact negatively on a great many people.
The suspicion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family is mounting. He has allegedly traded favors with tycoons in exchange for a million shekels’ worth of cigars and Champaign, he is claimed to have colluded with a newspaper to limit the competition in exchange for more positive coverage, and is suspected of having advanced the interests of another tycoon in exchange for positive coverage on his news website. And new stories, accounts and suspicions are piling up faster than they can be written down.
To each and every story that emerges, Netanyahu and his close circle have responded with increasing contempt, toward the police investigators, the legal system, the media, the witnesses, and pretty much everyone who does not swear by Netanyahu’s innocence and grandeur.
As these stories have been intensifying over the past months, some critics of Netanyahu have been speculating that the worse the accusations get, the more likely it becomes that Netanyahu could either start a war or call for an early election – in ways, of course, that can be seen as somebody else’s fault. The plan to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in May could advance the former option, and his inaction with regard to the coalition’s clash over ultra-Orthodox conscription helps the latter.
A war would naturally be ugly, but so would an election campaign. Netanyahu is no stranger to the politics of demonization on a normal day, and these are not normal days.
During the 2015 election, as reported by Nahum Barnea in Yediot Aharonot, Netanyahu reportedly said in a private meeting with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon: “You will never get the votes of the Mizrahi Jews, only I know how to get them. I know who they hate: They hate the Arabs. And I know how to deliver the merchandise.”
And go out to deliver he did. Later in that election, in which the Likud ran a hate-filled campaign, Netanyahu released a video in which he pleaded: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”
HOW WILL the next election campaign look like, when Netanyahu has a far more personal stake in his victory? Plainly, the first victims will continue to be the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Who? Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who make up 20.9% of the population, referred to by Israel as Arab Israelis.
This reference, erasing their national identity, is but one of many ways in which Palestinians are discriminated against and made to feel like second-class citizens in their own country.
They also suffer from immense gaps in exercising their right to education; they suffer from institutionalized discrimination in housing and land planning; on a daily basis, they suffer discrimination in access to facilities and security profiling.
During Netanyahu’s administrations, they have faced an erosion in the public use of the Arabic language, which in many aspects of the law is considered to be a second official language of the state, and constant attacks on Palestinian culture, and they currently face the proposed law “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Their elected representatives are a constant target for racist attacks and incitement.
In 2012, Israel’s first permanent Palestinian Supreme Court justice, Salim Joubran, came under heavy fire from members of Netanyahu’s government for refusing to sing the words of “Hatikva” – the country’s national anthem – at an official ceremony, and a similar event took place in 2017 with Justice George Karra.
In essence, Israel boasts that Palestinians can serve as Supreme Court justices, but can’t fathom why they would not stand up and sing:
As long as in the heart within, The Jewish soul yearns, And toward the eastern edges, onward, An eye gazes toward Zion...
In 2015, Netanyahu eloquently stated that “Jews gave the world the idea of man’s dignity, there is no room for racism in the Jewish state” – though he was referring to Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
Also perfectly timed in his campaign is the looming deportation of asylum-seekers, scheduled for April, which will no doubt be used to further Netanyahu’s appeal to his base.
Dangerous times are ahead and it is our duty as a society to stand up for those most in peril. How dangerous is a prime minister under investigation? “A prime minister up to his neck in investigations has no public or moral mandate to determine matters of fate, because there is a real risk that he will make decisions based on the personal interest of his survival, and not by the national interest,” said Netanyahu himself.
Granted, he was head of the opposition at the time, and the prime minister under investigation was Ehud Olmert.
The writer is the director of Amnesty International Israel, and formerly worked for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Greenpeace and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer. He can be reached at director@