President Shimon Peres speaking in Hadera
President Shimon Peres, May 2010. Photo by Itzik Ben-Malki
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The fire of hatred and racism is ablaze in Israel. Signs of loathing toward Arab citizens and African migrants are cropping up every day; examples include the municipal rabbis' letter that called for a ban on renting or selling homes to non-Jews, the protest rally for "Jewish Bat Yam" and the call to deport foreigners from neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. Hatred leads to violence. A gang of teens was arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion of attacks on Arabs for nationalist reasons.

The people who preach hatred, first and foremost the municipal rabbis and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union ), are openly leading the racist wave, and the political establishment is backing them by its actions and silence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and the right-wing Knesset continue to advance laws and initiatives designed to discriminate against Arab citizens and lock up thousands of immigrants in a giant facility in the Negev. The message out of Jerusalem in the delicate language of legislation is translated into wild incitement in the offices of the rabbis.

The prime minister warned yesterday about incitement toward minorities and foreign workers that could lead to violence. But Netanyahu doesn't visit the Arab neighborhoods and cities or conduct a dialogue with leaders of the Arab community. He prefers his coalition partnership with Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Shas' Eli Yishai, who preach the ostracism of Arab citizens and the persecution of migrants.

Under such circumstances, the president must intervene. Shimon Peres has unique standing as the representative of the Israeli state, thanks to his public position and extensive experience. As head of state, he must express that which unites and consolidates us and loudly and clearly take a stand against hatred, racism and violence between ethnic groups and communities. Peres should be free of the political and coalition constraints that tie the prime minister's hands.

Peres must visit the seam lines and friction zones and show the Arab inhabitants that they are equal citizens and Israel values them. He must meet with the victims of the gang violence in Jerusalem and show that victims of nationalistically motivated crimes should receive equal treatment regardless of their origin. Peres must show compassion for the migrants. That is his task in these dark days.