Before Blood Is Spilled

The threat of violence didn't come from Yossi Klein's Haaretz column, but from the chauvinist right that intimidated centrists and some leftists into condemning it

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the 2017 INSS conference in Tel Aviv.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the 2017 INSS conference in Tel Aviv.Credit: Moti Milrod

“A moment before blood is spilled. Haaretz, desist,” threatened Naftali Bennett, the education minister and settlers’ representatives in the cabinet, in response to Yossi Klein’s column (“Our hypocritical elite,” published in Haaretz's Hebrew edition on Thursday).

Whose blood will be spilled, Minister Bennett? A while ago, when Reuven Rivlin’s life was threatened after he condemned the Jewish terror attack in Duma, the extremist settler Daniella Weiss wanted to calm things down. In an interview with Channel 1, she said: “I can convey a message to Rivlin, you can sleep peacefully. It’s nonsense. Nobody’s going to kill him. He’s not important enough to be killed.” Convey a message from whom, Mrs. Weiss?

Weiss did not set the Jewish ultra-nationalist response policy, and as far as is known she isn’t its executor. She only served as its spokeswoman. So did Bennett. The policy is clear – when someone from the rival camp is too important, he is killed. Yigal Amir acted according to the same policy. After murdering Yitzhak Rabin he said, as everyone remembers, “I didn’t shoot Peres because he was a secondary target.”

Bennett and Weiss aren’t denying the violent potential of their crowd's response, only making it clear that this is not uncontrolled violence.

Violence is part of the nationalist right wing’s response arsenal, and since its use involves recognizing the strength and the potential victim’s importance, it could be said that the nationalist right is in the midst of an internal debate. Is Haaretz important enough to spill blood over? Indeed, anyone following the responses to articles in the newspaper that raise the far right’s rage can see they range between two extremes.

On one extreme are threats and expressions of animosity. The threats can be implied (like Gilad Erdan’s a few weeks ago) or direct (including wishing someone death or rape or threatening his family members with physical injury on the social networks and on the street). On the other extreme there’s a total negation of the newspaper’s power.

The debate isn’t only about Haaretz’s importance. Anyone who supports, even for a moment, the right wing’s ideological rival camp is a potential assault victim. It could be Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, his deputy Yair Golan, any general who opens his mouth.

The violence and threats are everywhere. The Israeli nationalist right’s widespread fanning of violence is the most denied truth. The secret everyone knows. Yet when the physical violence erupts, the perpetrator is always called a wild weed, the lunatic fringe, a handful, an exception to the rule.

When does the right wing move from words to acts? It depends on the “political enemy’s” importance. For example, this is how Netanyahu responded after Hagai El-Ad, B’Tselem’s CEO, took part in a UN Security Council hearing: “In Israeli democracy, even ephemeral, wacky organizations come into play, like B’Tselem.” That is, B’Tselem isn’t important enough. Is the High Court of Justice important enough to be the target of violence? According to MK Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi, it certainly is. The High Court “must be bulldozed by a D-9,” he said.

The ultra-nationalist right does not stop short of violence when deemed necessary, that’s why everyone is afraid of it. Everyone is walking on eggshells. It wasn’t the violent potential that may be derived in one’s imagination from Yossi Klein’s column that yielded the host of condemnations and threats from right and center and even parts of the so-called left, but the real violence threatening anyone who isn’t taking part in the public denunciation ritual of the victim of the moment.

Fascists’ work is carried out by cowards. And cowardice is a natural response to violence. Widening the circle of denouncers to include the center and parts of the left is the extreme right’s greatest achievement.

He who sows violence reaps fear. Netanyahu, Lapid, Herzog and the others are not history's first cowards. Where are the courageous Israelis hiding, those who can save this country?