A straight line connects the terrible scenes of the lynching in Bat Yam and the nation-state law. Incitement on the part of far-right organization Lehava – the figurative executive arm of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – led directly to the mob attacks and pogroms. The images were appalling, both because of the acts they show – thugs beating Said Moussa (with an Israeli flag!) as he lay on the ground, defenseless – and because of the people who stood around them and laughed, filmed or simply looked on idly. They did not feel threatened. They stood there watching an attempt to murder another human, and it didn’t appear to disturb them.
Unlike “regular” murder, lynching, or mob attacks, are a communal act. They express the consent of one community to shedding the blood of members of a different community – consent that makes it possible to violate the usual taboo against murder. Mob attacks are a community’s way of redrawing a boundary it feels has been crossed or is in constant danger of being crossed. They come from “below,” an act of popular rage or fear, and their instigators and organizers go about their actions unhindered. Already in 2014, I urged the attorney general and the justice minister to declare Lehava a terrorist organization. It didn’t happen. The result of the law enforcement authorities’ prolonged lenience toward the organization constitutes a mob attack that preserves the social order that benefits Lehava.
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For years Netanyahu opposed the nation-state law. He thwarted its passage repeatedly before concluding that in order to stay in power, he had to increase hatred between Jews and Arabs. The law itself is a reflection of the current reality: It specifies that the Jews are the masters and Israel’s Arab citizens are subjugated to them, as second-class citizens; it demotes Arabic from an official language of the state to having “special status”; it tells Israeli Arabs that they are not equal and will never be equal. A court registrar ruled that the nation-state law permits discrimination against Arabs living in Carmiel vis-a-vis the right to education, because Carmiel is a “Jewish city.” The district court overturned the ruling, but its logic had already struck root. After all, Netanyahu and other legislators explicitly rejected a demand to include in the law an article guaranteeing equality.
Ultimately, the nation-state law just continues the racist logic: a Jewish state for its Arabs and a (quasi) democratic state for its Jews. The law helps Netanyahu and preachers of hatred from the right and organizations like Lehava: It enables them to make their voters feel superior by virtue of being Jewish – and look at all the perks it gives the masters.
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Netanyahu makes his voters forget that he is destroying the state and slowly making it a dictatorship, and that the economic policy he has led for 20 years transfers capital to the wealthy, pushes Israelis into poverty and shrinks the middle class. The law lets the owners of the latifundia, the great plantations, in the territories, who champion libertarianism, make us forget that we actually have a welfare state – only it’s in the settlements. The opposition to government intervention stops at the 1967 borders.
People cannot be forced to love, but they must be taught to break free of the shackles of hatred, to recognize who is hitching a ride on hatred, who is prodding the animals in the cage to fight each other. The nation-state law is an invitation to civil war; the lynchings and pogroms encouraged by Lehava succeeded. We barely survived the war; our challenge now is to free ourselves of this law of hatred, because its very existence promotes civil war.