'Dr.' Naftali Bennett Wants to Eradicate the Toxic, Highly Contagious Condition Known as 'Opposing the Occupation'

The education minister attacked the country's diplomats last week by suggesting they had 'problematic DNA.' Israel's rightist discourse has now moved beyond merely labeling leftists as fifth columnists.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a podium, December 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

Tellingly, the recent fuss over Naftali Bennett’s suggestion that Israel’s diplomats may “have a problem with their DNA” was all about whether it was fair to aim the comment at Foreign Ministry employees in general.

The education minister acknowledged that it was not entirely fair a day later, when his office clarified that his remarks “were directed at those who act against Israel, like Alon Liel, the former director general of the Foreign Ministry.”

Liel, who both the minister and former Foreign Ministry colleagues went to great lengths to smear, has not been charged with any crime, has not been accused of any crime and, as far as I know, has not committed any crime.

The “act[ions] against Israel” that Bennett spoke of are in fact perfectly legal political opinions and activities that happen to be contrary to the minister’s own beliefs. They are the stuff that democracy is meant to be made of, though clearly not the authoritarian orthodoxy that pleases Bennett.

What Bennett said, through the mechanism of a classic off-the-cuff remark, was that there is a biological basis to the ideological chasm between himself and Liel. That Liel’s failure to toe the Bennett line is so inexplicable – so unnatural – that it can only be attributed to Liel’s bad genes.

Bennett himself has very good genes, of course – he must have, otherwise he wouldn’t be a leading representative of the one, true political path – so it follows that Liel is biologically inferior to Bennett. That’s what the fuss should have been about. About Bennett’s violation of the line that separates valid debate between equals, however far apart ideologically, from pernicious biological determinism.

It follows that any argument made by Liel or B’Tselem or even Haaretz is invalid in the eyes of Bennett, not only on ideological grounds, but on the grounds of genetic superiority. What’s the point of even listening to someone with dodgy DNA?

Under Bennettian Darwinism, voicing opposition to the occupation and taking action to end it is not a valid, if undesirable, political position. It is corrupted at the DNA level, blighted and putrescent, which assumedly justifies the use of a scalpel or whatever other measures Bennett and his ubermenschen are contemplating. When it comes to genetic diseases, one doesn’t mess around. 

It’s worth noting that Bennett was not talking about Arabs, who he and his ilk have long regarded as a splinter in the ass and a lot worse. We have become inured to anti-Arab racism in Israel and it no longer makes headlines. His latest targets were members of the Foreign Ministry diplomatic corps – almost entirely Jewish and predominantly Ashkenazi. In other words, people exactly like Bennett – who, it turns out, is not only a superb educator, but a practitioner of eugenics with an unerring eye for spotting the genetic markers that separate bad, self-hating DNA from the healthy, Zionist, pro-settlement variety.

Playing the biological card did not come out of the blue. Netanyahu, Bennett, Shaked and others have been building up to this point for the past three years. It’s a logical, if radical, consequence of the policies they have pursued, from the nation-state bill to the portrayal of opponents as foreign agents and the witch-hunt against human rights NGOs.

Netanyahu’s governments have moved from political intolerance to a form of Zionist exclusivity (the only good Zionist is a pro-settlement one), to defining those who oppose the occupation as an insidious fifth column preparing to hand Israel over to the anti-Semitic enemy. Bennett, a former special forces commando, stormed the ramparts of another red line on Friday.

In portraying his ideological opponents as genetic inferiors, Bennett is not blazing a new trail, of course. Slavery was largely justified by biological (or scientific) racism and it served the Nazis well in justifying (to themselves, at least) the slaughter of the Jews. Blacks were widely believed to be inferior beings in apartheid South Africa, while Burma’s Theravada Buddhists continue to treat the Muslim Rohingya minority as lesser beings.

Nor is Bennett unique in finding genetic flaws in those of the same religion and ethnic group whose political views differ from his own. Chemi Shalev, in his excellent article about Greek totalitarianism as depicted in the movie “Z,” tells of an army general lecturing his soldiers on the dangers of leftism:

“An ideological disease is like mildew,” Shalev quotes the general as saying. “It comes from septic germs and parasites. Ideological mildew, caused by germs such as communism, anarchism and peace movements, spreads insidiously and must be eradicated.” 

One man’s mildew is another man’s wonky DNA. It comes from the same place, means the same thing – and is highly toxic. Like the general, Dr. Bennett diagnoses anti-occupation ideology as a disease that needs to be eradicated.

Bennett did not retract or apologize for his DNA remark. He simply clarified that it did not refer to all Foreign Ministry employees. Presumably, then, the rest of us deviants are still on the minister’s watch-list.

We have been warned.

Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv and an editor at Haaretz. He has worked on newspapers in both South Africa and Israel.