What Was Occupying Netanyahu's Mind When He Made His Christmas Gaffe?

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began to tell Arab Christians that Israel is the Jewish state, he may have made an important discovery.

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

Who exactly did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extend his well-wishes to in his recorded Christmas address, during which he put his foot in his mouth and started calling Israel the Jewish State, before correcting himself?

One would logically assume that the prime minister was addressing his greetings to Israel’s Christians – since they are Israeli citizens, he is their prime minister and it is their holiday. This is obvious, yet the infantile glee his gaffe created was so great that it appears no one thought the prime minister’s intentions were pure and his word-usage simply ceremonial.

Doesn’t the president of the United States extend holiday greetings to his fellow American citizens who are Jewish on Hanukkah? Of course he does! And in the same vein, Netanyahu extended his greetings to his fellow citizens who are Christian.

However, this was not the case. The intended recipients of Netanyahu’s holiday greeting were not Israel’s Christian citizens, who are primarily Arab. This is their national and ethnic identity: Arab. The residents of Nazareth, parts of Haifa and Shfaram are Arabs. Palestinians. They are the “Zoabis” that Yair Lapid said he didn’t want in a political coalition.

Netanyahu does not extend his well-wishes to Arabs. Why would he do that? They are Arabs who live in Israel and have the right to vote. This is an unfortunate fact for him. It is not something to welcome, but to mourn.

For three minutes, Netanyahu gave his holiday greeting without once uttering the word “Arab.” He could not even begin to say the word. To his credit, it should be said that even a small and mischievous “Ar” did not escape his lips. That could have been a real gaffe, because Israel is the Jewish state, but there are slips that Netanyahu simply does not make.

OK, there is Christmas and there is a holiday greeting, and there is no mention of Arabs. So, who were the recipients of the festive tidings? A merry Christmas to Jewish deputy minister Ofir Akunis? Merry Christmas for the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community that promotes Christian Arab enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces.

There are many ephemeral forums in the world. I, for example, am a member of a Facebook forum for people who bring clean laundry from the chair to the bed repeatedly without ever folding it. This is our noble goal.

The Forum for Drafting the Christian Community into the IDF works, together with Akunis (merry Christmas, Ofir, and I say that from the bottom of my heart), to enlist Christians into the IDF.

The forum’s few activists have also endeared themselves to MK Miri Regev (Likud) and the right-wing Zionist movement Im Tirtzu. Rightly so, for some of the activists claim that these people are not really Arab, just Christians.

Among the vast majority of Christian Arabs, though, they are considered anathema and traitors attempting to splinter Arab society.

It was these Christians – and only these Christians – to whom Netanyahu addressed his Christmas greetings.

And even this he did only briefly, and in passing at the end. Most of the time, he grasped their hands and promised to protect them from their opponents – as if they were pioneering Zionist commandos parachuted behind enemy lines and the prime minister seeking to raise their morale until reinforcements arrived.

It’s unclear why Netanyahu treated the “Jewish State” pronouncement as a gaffe. What, they didn’t know?

This is a fascinating psychological phenomenon. Netanyahu, for whom Jewish Israel is affixed at the very core of his worldview, suddenly understood that there was a problem with this.

At that moment, he recognized that the definition of Israel as a Jewish state discriminates against his Christian allies, and perhaps even offends them.

It was actually when he stood in front of a handful of the least Arab Arabs in the world, as opposed to Hamas and Haneen Zoabi, that he felt like an occupier. It was unpleasant and he quickly sought to rectify it by saying “the state and our society” – a state for all its citizens.

But don’t worry. As is the way with mistakes, he quickly repressed it and returned to his daily routine.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Christmas message to Christian communityCredit: Screenshot

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