“Only someone who doesn’t own this land could set it on fire,” tweeted Education Minister Naftali Bennett the other day, as the wave of fires took on the proportions of a national disaster, long before the source of the fires was clear. The post has received 616 “likes” and 80 “shares” so far, a number likely to increase. This is six-fold higher than the responses to his usual tweets.
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Some people compared this to Benjamin Netanyahu’s tweet following the arrest of two Palestinians on suspicion of raping a mentally defective girl. (“This is a heinous crime that demands wall-to-wall condemnation, but for some reason this has not been heard, not in the media and not across the political spectrum. One could only imagine what would have happened if it were the other way around.”) When the suspects were released Netanyahu offered a partial apology.
Despite the similarities between these statements – referring to a crime while blatantly hinting at the nationality of the perpetrators who are still only suspects – this latest tweet is actually more like an earlier statement that Bennett made during the last elections campaign, in front of high school graduates about to vote for the first time.
Bennett said that “anyone who has tried to tour the Negev in recent years knows that one can’t leave a car anywhere since it’s bound to be broken into and stolen. Tractors are stolen in Petah Tikva and the Galilee and one can’t go to the Mount of Olives or Mount Scopus anymore. One can’t enter Arab towns or villages, and this hurts the Arabs most of all, since Israel has decided that the rule of law may apply to Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ra’anana, but not to these places.”
One should note Bennett’s semantics – he never uses the word “Arab” in proximity to the word “steal” or “thief” (the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi actually filed a libel suit against journalist Dror Feuer who tweeted that Bennett called all Arabs car thieves. He later retracted the suit.) The word “Arab” doesn’t appear in the new tweet at all. Nevertheless, everyone understands what his tweet means.
Bennett can threaten to press charges but his words cannot be construed differently. His subtext is obvious. His words do reflect some factual basis – there is serious concern that many of these fires are a result of politically-motivated arson, just as police data shows higher crime rates among Arabs. But Bennett uses this to promote a racist ideology with national and territorial implications, by raising the question of whom this country belongs to.
On the eve of what is appearing to be a serious development for many citizens, it’s sad to see that the best move a senior cabinet minister views as appropriate is to add kindling to the fire of hatred toward Arabs. In addition to a reminder of acts of arson committed by Jewish “hilltop youth” and the “fighters” of the “price tag” movement, from which settler leaders rightly dissociated themselves, arguing that an entire public should not be tarnished by deeds committed by individuals – one should ask what has brought back the wild rhetoric employed previously by Bennett, in which he referred to the “Palestinian problem” as a “pain in the ass,” but a tolerable one.
Until recently Habayit Hayehudi was the most statesman-like party in the coalition, except perhaps for the insipid Kulanu party. Bennett, as minister of education, took care to publicize his visits to Arab schools, highlighting his support of minorities and the increased investment in those sectors. Then started the Amona insanity, and since then the party has taken much more extremist stances, embracing the viewpoint of a superior Jewish race, which finds echoes among secular people as well.
Maybe now that Netanyahu is saddled with naval vessel issues, and perhaps with life itself, namely from the raging fires, Bennett has identified an opportunity to swipe some of Netanyahu’s supporters, those who respond to such statements more than to claims of our forefathers’ rights in Amona and other settlements.