Israel's Indwelling Bomb: The Internal Intifada of Racism

Welcome to Israel, 2015, where the prime minister warns of voting Arab hordes, the foreign minister threatens dissenters with decapitation, and a disappointed leftist voter tells rightists to 'Drink cyanide.'

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Is Israel coming apart at the seems?Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

Which is worse?

A: Members of a mob in London yelling "We'll kill you" outside a synagogue.

Or B: The Foreign Minister of the state of Israel declaring, in a reference to Israeli Arabs whom he deems disloyal, "Those who are against us, there's nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head."

Which is the more abhorrent?

A: On a morning television talk show, a former Ariel University professor who argues that right-wing-voting "questionable Jews" from "third-rate countries" (apparently Islamic nations and Russia) should not have been allowed to immigrate to Israel, tells a fellow guest. “Nothing bad would have happened, had your parents stayed in Morocco and rotted away there.”

Or B. The prime minister of Israel ramps up the final week of his campaign with a relentless barrage of warnings that weak, traitorous, anti-Israel leftist Isaac Herzog supporters and Israeli Arabs, all backed by unnamed foreign governments, are trying to steal the election.

This culminates in an Election Day video clip and social media posts sounding the alarm that Arabs are advancing on polling places en masse, and that only a vote for Likud could save the day.

The answer to both questions, is, "Welcome to Israel, 2015."

For years, Israelis have feared that a combustible mix of repression, rage, inequality, and frustration would ignite in a third intifada, a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And while the fear of a Palestinian uprising remains more than reasonable, the recent election campaign in Israel has unleashed an internal intifada of sorts. The heat and the ugliness of the campaign have combined to detonate the indwelling bomb of Israeli society, a pressurized compound of racist prejudices, long-simmering grievances, and a permanent state of affairs in which all Israelis, without exception, have reason to feel unfairly and consistently shafted by their compatriots.

No one here in Israel is surprised by this. Everyone could tell that it was poised to erupt. Nonetheless, when it happened, and fed on itself in dangerous directions, it still had the power to shock.

Last week, as the election results became clear, author and actress Alona Kimchi wrote [Hebrew link] of right-wing voters, "Drink cyanide, fucking Neanderthals. You won. Only death will save you from yourselves."

Kimchi quickly deleted the Facebook post, saying that in the heat of emotion she had "clearly used language which was excessively graphic and vitriolic."

In the current atmosphere, though, the fires were already raging, and Kimchi's post spawned an outpouring of hate-mail regarding “Ashke-Nazis.” The heat reached a new level when dismissed Ariel University professor Amir Hezroni stepped in with a fresh Molotov cocktail of his own, aimed at the Law of Return under which Jews can freely claim Israeli citizenship:

"If we hadn't spread our legs [indiscriminately] to all sorts of Jews, questionable Jews, and half-Jews from third-rate countries - for whom the unifying factor is kissing amulets, eating hummus, drinking borsht, taking welfare payments, and having orgasms over arguing with the world - Bougie [Herzog] would have taken the election in a walk."

For his part, Benjamin Netanyahu let his Election Day comments fester for days, in some cases adding insult to injury with remarks such as those he delivered in an uncharacteristically halting, assiduously choked-up cadence at the Western Wall the day after the vote.

While pledging to work for the welfare and security of all Israelis, he could not resist a renewed dig at leftist, center-leftist, and Arab voters, and a clear signal as to whose side he was on, and who the People of Israel really are.

"I esteem the People’s decision to choose me and my party, against all odds, and also against strong opposition," he told reporters.

Nearly a full week went by before Netanyahu, under the gun from Washington and reportedly pressed behind the scenes by the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman and others, staged a meticulously scripted, bizarrely staged ceremony Monday, with a tightrope walk of a political goal: To appear to express regret over the "Arabs voting in droves" campaign, without trespassing the campaign-minted 11th commandment of the hard right: Thou Shalt Not Apologize.

Not to Arabs, anyway.

In choreography that must be seen to be believed, Netanyahu, addressing a carefully culled delegation of strongly pro-Likud Arabs, leaves the podium and whips the sheikhs and village headmen into a frenzy. The prime minister ducks and stumps and weaves and bucks and wheels like a faith-healing preacher whirling cyclone-like through a tent meeting.

Before he was done with what he called on his Facebook page the "warm and exciting" gathering, the notables had shot to their feet in thunderous ovation and bear hugs.

Israel Arab representatives applauding Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Monday, March 23, 2015. (screenshot)

"I know that the things I said a few days ago hurt Israel's Arabs. I had absolutely no intention of doing that. I regret that," Netanyahu said, pledging equality for all Israelis, but taking yet another shot at foreign "elements interfering in the processes of our democracy."

By Tuesday morning, Israel Hayom, the Netanyahu administration's house organ, had the spin down pat.

With fights raging between left and right, Arabs and Jews, Ashkenazim and Sephadim, Netanyahu had a clear duty to calm things down, and "the apology was exactly in that spirit," wrote Israel Hayom senior columnist Boaz Bizmuth.

The prime minister was forced to intervene, he continued, "after his comment that 'Arab voters are advancing on the polling places in droves, and leftist organizations are busing them there' was interpreted by Israeli Arabs as a hurtful statement."

Acknowledging that the "voting in droves" warning was less than elegant, Bizmuth wrote, "The move, in Netanyahu's view, was not racist. It was political."

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