For Netanyahu, Hatred of Arabs Is a Matter of Policy

Netanyahu is balking at nothing in his holy war against 'the Arabs.' He’s turned the government, the Knesset and the legislative process into a sad joke, hitting rock bottom with a bill to expel Israeli Arab lawmakers.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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An illustration depicting Netanyahu holding up a Lieberman mask; Balad MKs Zoabi, Zahalka and Ghattas; and Likud MK Anat Berko.
Illustration.Credit: Amos Biderman
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

The unabashed joy with which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assailed the Balad party MKs in the wake of their obnoxious meeting with families of terrorists and murderers whose bodies Israel is holding, was only overshadowed by his astonishing speed in doing so. He was the first to condemn the meeting, even ahead of the fastest gun in the Knesset when it comes to Arab MKs, namely, Avigdor Lieberman. The head of Yisrael Beiteinu responded to this gross and unforgivable infringement of his personal space with unusual viciousness – even by his distinctly non-vegetarian standards. “Netanyahu’s words,” Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page, “are, as usual, hollow, whereas the graves of our people are being filled apace.”

That indirect correspondence was a peripheral episode in the main event of the week, the Balad affair. Netanyahu’s intense, obsessive immersion in that mire was totally disproportionate to its real significance. It showed that the sprout whose buds were seen on Election Day in his deceitful and cynical call to voters to save their souls in the face of the Arabs “who are flocking to the polling booths in droves” has taken root and become policy, agenda, a banner.

That racist-tinged exhortation last March, together with the terrifying speech of incitement against “the [Arab] sector” on the night of the terrorist attack by an Israeli Arab in Tel Aviv last month, and the premier's random but systematic catcalls in the Knesset whenever an Arab MK tests the limits of our tolerance – all this makes it plain that Bibi is the new Yvet, as Lieberman’s friends call him.

In the absence of any refreshing new rabbits in his hat, Netanyahu has adopted the anti-Arab card: He’s made the hatred of the Arabs his private “ticket.” Netanyahu’s fear of Lieberman, who has been gaining in recent polls, has led him to the toxic path that will take him all the way to the next election.

It’s not just about fanning the flames of suspicion and animosity between right and left and between Jews and Arabs, which is provocative but well-thought-out behavior that speaks to the heart of the average right-wing voter. The premier is also eliminating search committees for the directors of government corporations on the grounds that “we were elected to govern.” He appointed the cabinet secretary to the post of attorney general without a moment’s cooling-off period, he’s arrogated to himself the communications, foreign affairs and economy portfolios – and he’s thumbing his nose at everyone.

The nuclear agreement between the major world powers and Iran that Netanyahu failed to prevent is assuming concrete form daily before our eyes. Billions of dollars and euros are flowing to the Tehran government. The campaign of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks in Israel and the settlements continues unabated. The international anger and boycotts and initiatives against Israel are intensifying. But our prime minister is busy with three MKs. True, they are infuriating provocateurs who are making cynical and outrageous use of Israeli democracy, but at the same time, their continued presence in the legislature shows the world that Israeli is a democracy in a region that doesn’t have a surplus of that commodity.

Netanyahu sprayed the terms “national honor” and “there’s a limit” everywhere: in the weekly cabinet session, in the Likud faction meeting, in the Knesset plenum. In what was probably an unprecedented move for a prime minister, he submitted a complaint to the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.

But all that was marginal to the bill he sponsored that will make it possible for the Knesset to expel wayward MKs – always Arabs, we know – who have sinned by displaying “unbecoming behavior.” According to the proposal, it would take 90 votes, three-fourths of the Knesset, to expel an MK – a number Netanyahu knows will never be reached. But that’s not what this all about for him. He needs an enemy – to fight, and to speechify and fulminate against. Netanyahu without clear and present enemies is like a cook without ingredients.

We’ve forgotten, but Netanyahu occupies the chair once held by Menachem Begin, one of the greatest advocates of human and civil rights spawned by the right wing, a liberal through and through. In his wildest dreams, Begin would never have dared imagine supporting legislation that allows MKs to expel their colleagues from parliament, to which they were lawfully elected by the country’s citizens. For years Herut, the party that morphed into Likud, was boycotted and persecuted by Mapai, the forerunner of Labor. Begin never forgot that after he was elected, and his behavior toward minorities was exemplary. (It’s regrettable that the voice of his son, a Likud MK, hasn’t been heard on this issue.)

Netanyahu balks at nothing in his holy war against “the Arabs.” No mission is too petty or small for him, no despicable maneuver unacceptable. He’s turned the government, the Knesset and the legislative process into a sad joke. And the absolute pits, the bottom of the barrel, was reached on Wednesday in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) convened an urgent session to deliberate Netanyahu’s bill on the expulsion of MKs. But for the first time in the history of this prestigious committee, the MKs found themselves with nothing on their tables: no draft bill to examine, no memorandum, no abstract, nothing. They were asked to hold a discussion based on what they’d gleaned from the media. In the past, the heads of the law committee blocked attempts by prime ministers to tilt the committee in their direction. But the eternal functionary Slomiansky embodies everything that was bad and revolting in the old National Religious Party.

One would expect that legislation like this, which vests a parliamentary majority with draconian powers and ignores basic civic values, to be submitted by the likes of Oren Hazan, Miki Zohar, Yaron Mazuz, Nurit Koren and other nonentities who people the Likud backbenches in the Knesset. Until not long ago, in saner times, the competition to vilify the Arab MKs and get 30 seconds of glory on the nightly news was confined to former Likud MK Danny Danon or Michael Ben Ari, a Kahanist. Now Israel’s former UN ambassador and current prime minister has morphed into a mutation of Danon – who is currently Israel’s envoy to the United Nations.

Jointly held hostages

It was pathetic and also amusing this week to hear some of the members of the Joint Arab List in the Knesset defending the three Balad MKs from that party – MKs Jamal Zahalka, Basel Ghattas and Haneen Zoabi – and absorbing the assault of furious interviewers. The defenders were gritting their teeth and biting their lips, cursing the day they were saddled with this burden. If the 10 non-Balad MKs of the JAL had been fitted with lie-detectors, we would have heard very different comments from them. The members of the other three parties that make up the JAL asked the Balad group angrily, in private conversations at the Knesset, Why didn’t you tell us in advance? Why do you keep confronting us with faits accomplis, and leaving us to clean up the mess?

The most abject of the group was the head of the JAL, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash). This is hardly the first time he’s discovered that his colleagues take no account of him. Odeh didn’t know ahead of time about the Balad trio’s ploy. He learned of it when the Balad website posted a photo of the MKs sitting at a long table opposite members of the families of terrorists who were killed by Israeli security forces. He knew nothing about the meeting, just as he hadn’t known about Ghattas’ participation in a flotilla to Gaza or his visit to the Temple Mount at the height of the tensions there, when the other MKs from JAL kept away. “I know only what I am told,” Levi Eshkol once said, dejectedly. Odeh, it turns out, is told nothing.

There is no common denominator among the members of this party, other than the desire on the part of each of the factions to be on its own, after they were forced to shelter under a single umbrella because the threshold for entering the Knesset was raised. Other parties that want to come to an agreement with the JAL, the second-largest party in the opposition (and the third largest in the Knesset), have to speak separately to the leader of each of its constituent factions.

The meeting with the Palestinian families shows vividly how things are handled in the List. Almost all its MKs are in contact with the families of terrorists, who seek their help in getting Israel to return their bodies. But the meetings or other contacts are held discreetly, and the requests are conveyed to the relevant government departments. But the Balad MKs decided not only to hold a mass meeting, but also to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the murderers of innocent children, women and men – an act that should nauseate and shock every reasonable person, Jew or non-Jew. On top of that, they posted a photo of the event on Facebook. As far as is known, the initiative to go public came from Ghattas and Zoabi, whose aides took the pictures.

From what Balad leader Zahalka said afterward, he too was apparently taken by surprise at the publicity. In other words, they pulled a fast one on him, too.

Likud MK Anat Berko.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Back to basics

Almost every week, Israel’s citizens get another taste of the treasures concealed in the current Likud Knesset slate. Every time we think we’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel, along comes something even more embarrassing and shameful, a Likudnik mired in a puddle of racism/stupidity/boorishness.

This week it was the turn of MK Anat Berko to stage a show of ignorance and folly from the Knesset podium. She claimed that there is no Palestinian nation, because the letter “P” does not appear in the Palestinian lexicon and language. The last time Dr. Berko made the headlines was when she suggested that MKs be searched upon entering the Knesset to prevent any attack, God forbid, on the prime minister.

Unlike other Likud MKs, who had to spit blood for their place on the slate, Berko, who holds a Ph.D. in criminology, was guaranteed 23rd place by Netanyahu, because she’s both an academic and a lieutenant colonel in the reserves. Much has been said about the random connection between an army or police rank, and basic intelligence. Now we see that there are hardship cases in academia, too. Maybe someone should look more closely into the research and academic output of this MK. Who knows what goodies lie hidden there.