The headline of this piece is taken from the open letter “J’accuse” by the novelist Emile Zola to France’s president on January 13, 1898. It’s about the injustice caused to Alfred Dreyfus, and about shattering France’s legacy of liberty, turning anti-Semitism into a force unifying the haters of equality. It’s about the lies and malice in the army and the corruption, distortion of truth, ignorance, violence and deceit. Zola protested all these things and accused those responsible. In Israel on the eve of our 70th Independence Day, we are also accusing.
We are accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of selling his soul to the devil of incitement, fearmongering and racism. Circumstances gave him a chance to appear before the world as a leader who courageously says the right things: We will deal with the distress of tens of thousands of unfortunate human beings based on the values of justice and humanism.
Now, a few days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we remember the Jewish refugees who could find no safe haven to which to flee, we will put an end to this difficult humanitarian problem. My fellow citizens, a worthy leader would say, this is the way, it’s the right and proper way and there is no other. But Netanyahu, who is chiefly to blame for Israel’s current situation, chose to remain a pathetic and scared leader without moral backbone.
We also accuse Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who defends an army that commits war crimes against civilians demonstrating against their poverty and distress while they are imprisoned between the sea to the west and fences, snipers’ rifles and tanks to the east. We accuse him of incitement against the country’s Arab citizens, corrupt politics and hooliganism, and of using the norms of a regime that no longer exists, which are poisoning the shaky Israeli democracy. We accuse him of encouraging incitement against elected officials – Jews and Arabs – who were legally elected to the Knesset and faithfully represent their constituencies.
We accuse the heads of the army and the security agencies of failing to protest against the political leadership and warn that after 50 years of occupation and oppression the Israel Defense Forces is losing the ability to distinguish between what is permissible and what is forbidden. The army’s spokespeople sometimes sound like the officers of armies whose leaders were accused of collaborating with the worst crimes of the 20th century. Senior German and Japanese officers and commanders gave exactly the same reasons when they tried to explain the injustices in occupied Russia and the Philippines.
There too, adhering to the mission, defending the homeland, strategic considerations, instructions from the high command and obeying orders served as excuses to justify firing at unarmed people, arrests in the dark of night and deadly collective punishment. And there too it began with 17 people murdered and ended with thousands.
We accuse Education Minister Naftali Bennett of brainwashing the next generation, of turning Israel into a country whose young people think democracy is a form of government that’s right only for Jews, preferably those who observe the appropriate religious ceremonies. He is guilty of emptying the school system of its universal messages and filling the minds of the country’s young people with inferior religious kitsch accompanied by messages with fascist content: the nation’s greatness and the value of sacrificing one’s life for it. He is guilty of nurturing martyrdom centering around the Holocaust and worshipping the rocks of Samaria, creating a philosophy composed of a sacred God, sacred soil and a sacred race.
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We also accuse Culture Minister Miri Regev and Likud MKs David Amsalem, Miki Zohar, Nava Boker and their ilk – politicians whose vulgarity and hooliganism is second only to the depth of their ignorance. These are people who have turned the language of the marketplace into a language used in public discourse; people who proudly flaunt their ignorance (“I don’t read Chekhov”) as if they had won a prestigious prize for scientific research or a literary work; people who turn the elected official’s obligation to shun corruption into nothing more than a suggestion.
And despite the attempts to claim that this pathetic gang is the authentic representative of some (Mizrahi?) revolution, its members are guilty of the deterioration of Israel’s politics and culture into dark corners of the type that flourished in the beer halls where hatred, violence and racism reigned. Then it was the Jew, today it’s the liberal, the leftist, the Arab or any person who doesn’t agree with them.
We accuse Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, two people whose goal is to take apart the last defender of Israeli democracy – the Supreme Court. They’re two educated young people who are advancing bills (the nation-state bill, for example) and appointments in the judiciary based on a new Zionist ideology, National Zionism, that represents an antithesis both to the traditional Zionism of the 20th century and the post-Zionism of the century’s end. This Zionism is a branch of European neo-fascism, which contains elements of xenophobia and ultranationalism, subordinating democracy to other values and restricting individual rights and the freedom and independence of the law.
We accuse the preachers of hatred who bear the title “rabbi”: Eli Sadan, Dov Lior, Shmuel Eliyahu, Yigal Levinstein and many others, for turning Judaism into a religion that supports ethnic cleansing and genocide, xenophobia, the exclusion and hatred of women and the harming of gay people. The guilt of these men is great because they educate hundreds and thousands of young people, and their hate-filled preaching has many listeners who accept their words because they wear skullcaps and sport beards and are therefore thought to have special wisdom and knowledge.
They are the spiritual force behind the gangs of young people who harass the Palestinian and his olive grove in the territories, they are the ones who grant religious justification for the acts of violence and murder committed by the kippa-wearing thugs. They are the greenhouse that nurtures politicians such as MK Bezalel Smotrich, a racist, homophobe and preacher of genocide. Only in Israel (or in benighted countries in the previous century) could someone like him become deputy Knesset speaker.
History — or if it isn’t too late, the Israeli voter — will pass judgment on all of them, and others. Confronting them is a gradually shrinking group of dissidents who are stubbornly marching against the prevailing atmosphere. These are the civil society activists who by their protest are halting the expulsion of asylum seekers, the Holocaust survivors who are helping lead the protest against the deportation, the members of the New Israel Fund who continue to support whatever promotes the values of equality and democracy in Israel. These are the people who petition the High Court of Justice against the injustice perpetrated by the government, the activists of the Jewish-Arab partnership, and everyone who still believes it’s possible to stop the wheel before it crushes us all.
Emile Zola concluded his letter as follows: “As for the people I am accusing, I do not know them, I have never seen them, and I bear them neither ill will nor hatred. To me they are mere entities, agents of harm to society. The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul.”