The ultimatum Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel – that Gabriel cancel his meetings with rights groups B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence as a condition for meeting with Netanyahu – brings the legacy of the Netanyahu governments to an ugly new low. This legacy is based on incitement, branding as a traitor anyone criticizes the government, especially those who criticize the occupation.
Gabriel did well not to give in to Netanyahu’s improper attempts to pressure him. The German foreign minister insisted on meeting with representatives of the two groups, even at the cost of canceling a meeting with the prime minister, noting that it would be “inconceivable” for the him to cancel a meeting with the Israeli leader if the latter met with figures critical of the German government.
This insistence is a basic lesson in democracy for the Israeli government. That government encourages flagrant witch hunting of leftists and human rights activists instead of addressing their arguments practically. It denies the reality in the occupied territories, which the world can no longer accept as “temporary” or “interim.” Instead, Netanyahu and his ministers want to silence the messengers.
And if the prime minister’s offensive move weren’t enough, the poor responses by the opposition are even more worrisome. Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid published an incoherent statement reflecting hollow leadership. (“Netanyahu doesn’t need to cancel his meeting with the German minister but he’s absolutely right!”) Opposition leader Isaac Herzog focused on “damage to Israel’s foreign relations,” making sure to distance himself from the two organizations.
In contrast to the right-wing government’s repeated claims that unfortunately have been adopted by the limp opposition, the real damage to Israel’s image isn’t caused by the human rights groups but by the ministers themselves, who vie with one another in fawning on the settler minority and promoting racist and anti-democratic initiatives characteristic of dark regimes. Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, in their unyielding war against the occupation that’s creeping across the 1967 border and destroying everything good about this country, are keeping democracy alive in Israel.
The moral confusion that Netanyahu has planted in the heart of the Israeli public debate must cease. Zionism isn’t Culture Minister Miri Regev’s and Coalition Chairman David Bitan’s reign of terror, or Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin’s regime of silencing opposition. Nor is it the colonial fanaticism of Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich.
Zionism means ensuring a Jewish democratic state by ending the occupation. Unlike Netanyahu, who is misappropriating Zionism, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are fulfilling its precepts heroically.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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