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The New Israel Fund Spokesman: Netanyahu

Israel's prime minister is two people: abroad, it's progressive Prime Minister Netanyahu; In Israel, it's corrupt King Bibi. The dissonance is clear- and disturbing

Mickey Gitzin
Mickey Gitzin
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 12, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 12, 2018.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP
Mickey Gitzin
Mickey Gitzin

“The Bible said that all of us are created in the image of God, and it inspired [Thomas] Jefferson to write [in] the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, all women too by the way.” Hard to believe. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard words from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with which I identified as much as those statements, made at the conclusion of his speech at the recent AIPAC Policy Conference.

The alliance between Israel and the United States, explained Netanyahu, is based not on security or interests, but on shared values. And foremost among them is the value of equality.

>>Netanyahu at AIPAC: The Good, the Bad and the Bubble | Analysis <<

“These values are an inseparable part of America’s story, of Israel’s story,” added the prime minister, to the cheers of the audience at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. “A story of freedom, justice, peace and hope.”

As someone who has been involved all his life in the struggle for equality, I was very moved. Maybe we should print those quotations on the posters of the New Israel Fund, I thought. After all, Bibi summed up our basic principles so beautifully. And he was and remains an excellent speaker.

But there’s a small problem here. Who in Israel will believe that Bibi really said all that? The highlights of the speech publicized by Netanyahu’s bureau dealt with Iran, and Bibi’s popular Facebook page made no mention of the quotations. And, in general, Netanyahu’s remarks in Hebrew sound slightly different: “The left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish,” or “Arabs are going in droves to the polls by bus” are the examples that come immediately to mind, rather than talk of equality and brotherhood. And the issue of women – with religious Zionist rabbis competing among themselves with crazy statements opposing women’s singing and women’s army service – I don’t recall Bibi taking any interest in it at all. How is it that suddenly he cares?

It turns out that Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually two people. Abroad we have Prime Minister Netanyahu who speaks about freedom of religion in Jerusalem. In Israel we have Bibi, who revokes the Western Wall plan that was initiated by his government. Prime Minister Netanyahu explains that the idea of equality was given to the world and to the United States by the Jewish people; Bibi pressures his coalition partners to legislate a Basic Law to the effect that Judaism comes before democracy. Abroad Prime Minister Netanyahu reminds us that human beings means women too, while in Israel Bibi blocks attempts at reform in the rabbinical courts with his own body.

Here’s something minor that Netanyahu didn’t talk about on the stage at AIPAC: Equality is the most important value that is not anchored in a Basic Law in the State of Israel, and the famous judicial revolution in the Supreme Court was for the most part an attempt to extrapolate the principle of equality from other laws. This idea angered Bibi and his coalition partners so much that they embarked on a campaign to dismantle the court, by means of “bypass laws” and the appointment of ultra-conservative justices, and now with the so-called nation-state law – an attempt to tip the balance in favor of the Jewish side in advance, in any future dispute.

They will never turn the Israeli Declaration of Independence into a Basic Law, it’s too egalitarian. They are not even willing to insert the word “equality” into the law. It would be interesting to know what Prime Minister Netanyahu would have to say about that.

It’s true that in Israel there are people fighting for equality, freedom, liberty and justice. These are the people whom Bibi attacks on a weekly basis, and especially on days when he feels that his back is to the wall – those who are trying to stop the abuse of women by the ultra-Orthodox establishment; those who think that an Arab citizen and a Jewish citizen are entitled to the same rights; those who think that state funds need not be conditioned on censorship and declarations of loyalty; those who are trying to advance LGBT rights by means of legislation.

In other words, all the elements in Israeli society that are in urgent need of a healthy dose of Jefferson-style civil rights. And it is actually Netanyahu’s partners who are the ones who describe LGBTs as perverts, Arabs as a fifth column and “foreigners,” women as stupid and light-headed. But Netanyahu, the man of the book, is unable to find Hebrew words to criticize them.

In Hebrew Netanyahu is the most divisive leader we have ever known, someone who builds up his political power by siccing communities against each other. In English he is the presenter of the New Israel Fund. I’ll probably never get used to that.

The writer is the Executive Director in Israel of the New Israel Fund.

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