The toxic discourse that endangers lives - opinion

This rhetoric places the threat of an attempted assassination as a real possibility, which must be prepared for.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett shakes hands with MK Mansour Abbas in the Knesset. Large parts of the Jewish population do not recognize Israel’s Arabs as equal citizens. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett shakes hands with MK Mansour Abbas in the Knesset. Large parts of the Jewish population do not recognize Israel’s Arabs as equal citizens.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

It is no secret that the Israeli center-left blames the aggressive and inciteful discourse of both political and religious leaders from the right, for the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, against the background of the Oslo Accords.

Of course, we do not know if assassin Yigal Amir would have refrained from pulling the trigger three times on that fateful Saturday evening, had Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, in the early 1990s, avoided personal attacks on Rabin – referring to Rabin as dangerous to Israel’s security (just as he does today with regard to the leaders of the current government) – or if some fanatic rabbis who imposed on Rabin a din rodef and/or declared a pulsa denura against him, had simply have kept their mouths shut.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) apparently believes that the incitement, curses, and declarations that a certain person’s life is expendable, are danger signs – as in the case today with Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina), who is being attacked by various religious circles because of his policy of opening the religious services for kashrut and Jewish conversions to greater competition, even though these services will still remain under the rabbinate, and in accordance with Orthodox practices. 

Kahana has been termed Antiochus (the Greek king at the time of the desecration of the First Temple) by no less than MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), and a mityaven (a Jew who adopted Greek culture during the Second Temple period) by MK Miri Regev and other members of the Likud. 

Once again, some rabbis declared din rodef (a concept in Jewish law which allows for the killing of an individual who intends to kill or harm others) on our hapless minister of religious services. The Shin Bet reacted by placing Kahana under a top security protection, after deciding that his life is under threat.

 Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Strangely enough, it was former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who last Friday belittled the danger to Kahana’s life, claiming that Kahana  was exaggerating when he asked the Shin Bet for special protection. Yet Netanyahu hysterically insisted that the protection for his wife and two sons should not be lifted, but continue for at least another half year.

In fact, Kahana did no such thing; it was the Shin Bet that insisted on the special protection. And regarding Netanyahu’s wife and sons – apparently the Shin Bet does not believe that there is any real danger to their lives, despite ugly messages running in the social media.

NOW, WHAT about all the ugly talk by the opposition in the Knesset, the right-wing media (especially Channel 14 TV, formerly Channel 20), and right-wing social media against the Arab citizens of Israel, Arab MKs in general, and MK Mansour Abbas, in particular?

Last week persons close to Abbas revealed that he is worried about his personal security, both from Jewish right-wing circles, and from Israeli Arab circles, who are not happy about his membership in a Zionist coalition, and his focus on domestic Arab affairs, rather than Palestinian national issues. 

Since the Shin Bet apparently has no concrete information about a real threat to Abbas’ life, and Abbas himself is wary about turning to the Knesset sergeant-at-arms, because he is apparently worried about the reaction of his followers, at the moment the issue is in limbo – at least for the time being.

I have continuously mentioned the incessant attacks on Abbas by the opposition. Members of the Jewish opposition keep referring to him as “the acting prime minister,” claiming that the current government is hostage to the Islamic Movement “which even the United Arab Emirates has outlawed,” arguing that the “treacherous” government has handed Abbas NIS 30 billion to do with as he pleases.

All this is nonsense (except perhaps for the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is indeed outlawed in the UAE, and several other Arab dictatorships). But the incitement continues. It certainly does not help attempts to develop some real cooperation between the government and Ra’am to deal with lawlessness in parts of the Arab sector; as well as addressing serious problems resulting from years of neglect in this sector in infrastructure, education, housing, employment and general public services. 

Whether all of this is likely to drive Jewish individuals to try and violently harm Abbas is not clear. Large parts of the Jewish population do not really recognize Israel’s Arabs as equal citizens, and believe that Israeli democracy should apply to Jews only and not to Arabs. The current situation in which for the first time an Arab party is a member of the coalition, and an active player in the coalition (though not in the government), is repulsive in their eyes.

There is also the impact of the violence between certain parts of the Arab population and certain parts of the Jewish population, which emerged in mixed cities during Operation Guardian of the Walls. The lawlessness of part of the Bedouin population in the Negev might spur certain Jewish groups to take independent action, should the police fail to regain control of the situation.

Abbas’ second source of concern is the attacks against him by members of the predominantly Arab Joint List. According to them, Ra’am does not support many of their legislative initiatives due to its obedience to coalition discipline. They do not seem to be impressed with Abbas’ achievements in the coalition, and view him as a traitor.

Incidentally, in his appearance on Saturday evening on Channel 12 TV’s Meet the Press program, former finance minister, MK Israel Katz (Likud) commented that it would be an absurdity if Netanyahu’s wife and sons would no longer receive security services from the state, and MK Mansour Abbas would start receiving them. 

In the final reckoning it is the Shin Bet that decides requires protection. If it is found that Abbas requires it and Netanyahu’s wife and sons do not – then so be it.

And what about Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has been bad-mouthed and libeled by the Jewish opposition from the moment he was sworn in as prime minister? There were even calls from certain religious circles to declare a pulsa denura against him for “seeking to destroy the Torah world.” MK David Amsalem is only one of numerous Likud MKs who keep referring to him as a liar, a cheat and a crook.

It is therefore no surprise that Bennett is the most threatened person in Israel today. However, the security around Bennett is as tight as possible – a result of the bitter lesson the Shin Bet learned from the trauma of Rabin’s assassination 26 years ago. 

The chances of a successful attempt on Bennett’s life are virtually zero. But this does not do away with the need to get rid of the toxic discourse. This rhetoric places the threat of an attempted assassination as a real possibility, which must be prepared for.

The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement, and recently published a book in Hebrew, The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job, soon to be published in English by Routledge.