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The demand by a group of academics and intellectuals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspend the state-funded rabbis who signed the letter of incitement against Israeli Arabs, and to keep racist bills from being put to a Knesset vote, is an important and timely act of protest.

For some time now the feeling in the country is that intellectuals and academics have lost their voice - whether out of frustration and a sense of helplessness in the face of recent events and draft legislation that the cabinet does not even consider blocking, or due to the ongoing efforts by extreme right-wing politicians to delegitimize them. The latter have made "leftists" a term of derogation for anyone who criticizes them.

The weakening of the humanist and liberal spirit in our society constitutes a worrisome trend which academics, artists and intellectual leaders have a duty to resist. These efforts might be countered by aggressive responses, up to and including official sanctions, as in the case of the theater people who protested the staging of plays in Ariel. Nevertheless, they must not back down.

Israelis have recently been exposed to massive incitement from two main sources: Knesset members and rabbis. The former purport to lead, the latter purport to speak in the name of God and morality. Both have assumed exclusive control of the public arena, creating the impression that everyone is in thrall to their benighted opinions - or at least accepts them submissively.

The government's tacit acquiescence to the rabbis' letter, including Netanyahu's anemic protest, and the scandalous support of the majority of cabinet ministers to the recent batch of racist bills (including the "Nakba law," the amendment to the Citizenship Law, and the admission committees law ) have reinforced this distressing impression. The absence of a clear response from the most prominent advocates of the opposing camp has created a dangerous vacuum in the face of the incitement and racism.

The intellectuals' petition constitutes a partial response, but it is not enough. There are many Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, who live with a feeling of helplessness and angst as a result of the incitement. The time has come for the representatives of freedom and morality to champion - for and with this public - a clear and assertive protest.