Editorial |

Israel's Prime Minister of Incitement

Anyone who describes journalists as Nazis and traitors is effectively saying it’s okay to kill them: Israeli law prescribes the death penalty for both Nazism and treason.

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Netanyahu, 2014
Netanyahu, 2014Credit: Emil Salman

The foundation of democracy is the freedom of criticize. Tyrannical regimes shut their opponents’ mouths, label them as traitors and enemies of the state and deprive them of their freedom.

In Israel, it’s still permissible to expose governmental abuses and to publish critical views. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear over the last few days that he opposes freedom of expression and criticism and is waging a campaign to undermine the legitimacy of journalists and media outlets that expose the goings-on in his court.

In response to an investigative report by Gidi Weitz and Nati Tucker about his attempts to gain control over the media (November 5), Netanyahu described Haaretz as a paper that disseminates Nazi propaganda. And in response to an investigative report by Ilana Dayan’s television program “Uvda” about the conduct of his bureau and the influence of his wife, Sara, on senior government appointments (Channel 2, November 5), he described Dayan as a radical leftist and anti-Zionist who libels Israeli soldiers and seeks to topple the government.

Netanyahu refused to provide substantive responses to dozens of questions sent him by these journalists, nor did he deny a single detail that appeared in their reports about him. Instead of being transparent with the public about his conduct, as required in a democratic polity, the prime minister prefers to intimidate the media. Anyone who describes journalists as Nazis and traitors is effectively saying it’s okay to kill them: Israeli law prescribes the death penalty for both Nazism and treason.

Netanyahu has returned to incitement. But in contrast to his behavior prior to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, this time he can’t claim, as he did then, that from the heights of the balcony in Zion Square he didn’t see the demonstrators holding pictures of Rabin in an SS uniform. This time, he himself signed off on the inflammatory words.

Netanyahu must not be absolved of responsibility for his incitement by unverified speculations about his mental health, or by blaming his wife or his aides or his spokespeople. The problem isn’t the prime minister’s personality, but his policy: The battle to rein in freedom of expression and liquidate democracy is at the heart of the campaign to “overthrow the elites” that Netanyahu’s current government has declared.

The prime minister has simply stopped hiding behind straw men like MK David Bitan and Culture Minister Miri Regev, whom he had sicced on the media and cultural institutions. Now, he himself has taken the field and ratcheted up the volume. It’s a pity that opposition leaders are abetting him – Isaac Herzog through his pathetic attempts to join the government and Yair Lapid by posing as a mini-Netanyahu and marking out traitors in human rights organizations.

Anyone who cares about saving Israeli democracy must mobilize to topple this government before it’s too late. Netanyahu’s inflammatory responses to the investigative reports by Haaretz and “Uvda” should echo like an alarm bell in the ears of every Israeli.



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