Editorial

Fear at the Top in Israel

Netanyahu and several of his ministers seem afraid above all of their image in the mirror - of leaders of a state calling itself a democracy and practicing apartheid.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev are seen next to a photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. September 28, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev are seen next to a photograph of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. September 28, 2016. Ronen Zvulun, AFP

Culture Minister Miri Regev’s demand for the names of screenwriters, directors, producers and officials who approved or turned down the documentary series “Megiddo” – about Palestinians in Israeli prisons for security offenses – is perfectly in sync with the rightist government’s modus operandi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his senior ministers and their supporters in the ruling institutions and social networks are relentlessly searching out “leftists,” denouncing them in blacklists and restricting their freedom of expression and protest.

Here are a few examples from the last few weeks. The prime minister and his mouthpieces in politics and the media portray the directors of the Public Broadcasting Corporation and its journalists as “having leftist views” and call for closing the corporation down; Minister Gilad Erdan calls for setting up a data bank of Israelis who support the boycott on the settlements, as a sequel to the law forbidding foreign boycott supporters’ entry to Israel; The Strategic Affairs Ministry, which Erdan heads, is surveilling government critics in the social networks.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett plans to set up an intelligence department in his ministry; his ministry issues warnings to school principals who invited Breaking the Silence activists to their schools; the state lottery Mifal Hapayis, headed by Likud figure Uzi Dayan, blocks a Breaking the Silence event in Kiryat Ono, in an auditorium that hosted a meeting of the ruling party; the Culture Ministry withholds funds from Al-Midan Theater with see-through excuses.

What are they afraid of? On the face of it, they have no reason to be afraid. The rightist rule seems secure. The opposition is cooperating with the government in delaying the two-state solution and few believe in its feasibility.

Donald Trump’s administration boasts of defending Israel in the UN and refrains from criticizing its policy publicly. Europe is busy with internal problems. The military threat to Israel is weaker than ever. Israeli high-tech is thriving and weapon exports are booming. Even Nicaragua has resumed relations with Israel.

And yet, the government is afraid of a handful of activists and organizations struggling against the occupation and exposing its iniquities despite the public’s indifference. The Israeli left has all but disappeared in the voting booths and Knesset. But the “strong man” Netanyahu and his partners describe it as a powerful monster. It’s hard to believe that the prime minister and ministers of education, culture, public security and public diplomacy are afraid of losing power to B’Tselem.

They seem to be more afraid of their image in the mirror – of leaders of a state calling itself a democracy and practicing apartheid. It’s hard for them to accept responsibility for their immoral acts beyond the Green Line and they hope that shattering the mirror and silencing the criticism will make the ugliness disappear.

The stress they display shows they’re not really certain of their historic victory over the “left” and they fear that exposing the occupation’s wrongs will lead to their being driven from power. Their fear holds great hope for change.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.