A horrific and ugly straight line connects that notorious rally in Jerusalem’s Zion Square to the assault on three Arabs on a beach in Kiryat Haim, near Haifa: a clear line of incitement, hatred, racism, divisiveness and evil, which back then led to the murder of a prime minister and will now bring about the demise of the Third Commonwealth.
I was shocked when I saw photos of the Arabs who were assaulted. These weren’t just blows. There was a clear intent to murder there. These were eight assailants, neo-Nazis in their worldview, equipped with clubs and chains in the best Brown Shirt tradition. They cruelly attacked the three (a doctor, a male nurse and a friend) in the head, with a ferocity attesting to their intent to lynch them, only because they were Arabs. One of the three lost consciousness and fell to the ground. A second one bent over to help him and was attacked from behind, knocked to the ground. Their blood spurted everywhere, and when they reached a hospital their wounds needed to be stitched together with special pins.
Dozens of people at the scene did not lift a finger. They didn’t even call the police. Only two, the just of Sodom, intervened and saved their lives. “Without them we wouldn’t be alive … they would have murdered us,” said one of the men who were attacked.
It’s interesting to reflect on what the prime minister might have said had such a horrific racist attack targeted Jews in Britain or France. I know what Emmanuel Macron or Theresa May would say. They would emphatically and unhesitatingly condemn the attack. But Netanyahu is silent.
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He’s not just maintaining silence. Nothing is coincidental with him. Everything is planned. He knows that the highest dividends at election time go to those who harm, humiliate and threaten Arabs. This is the racist reality he’s led us into throughout his long years in office. Inflammatory speech, incitement and xenophobia were always the refuge of cynical politicians, riding on man’s basest instincts along their way to power.
Netanyahu is a great expert at incitement and inflammatory language. We haven’t forgotten the funeral procession he led in Ra’anana, the one with a coffin and noose intended for Rabin. We haven’t forgotten the incitement at Zion Square, with Netanyahu leading the pack from the balcony, where the inflamed mob shouted: “Rabin is a murderer,” “Rabin is a traitor,” “with fire and blood we’ll get rid of Rabin.” The assassin was not far behind.
Throughout his years in power, Netanyahu honed his skills at inciting against Arabs and people on the left. He missed no opportunity to describe Arabs as monsters. On the day of the last election he announced that “Arabs are going in droves to the voting booths,” as if they had no right to vote. Recently he passed the nation-state law, which discriminates and harms them overtly.
Rabin’s murderer did not live in a vacuum. He was influenced by the incitement in Zion Square and by a religious provision allowing extrajudicial killing (“din rodef”) espoused by some rabbis. So were the eight skinheads on that beach. They are the corollary of the aggressive atmosphere fostered by Netanyahu, the leader who set the tone. They heard the beat of the tom-toms calling them to act, and set out. Their kindred spirits attack Arabs in Jerusalem or Binyamina and they set out on a pogrom in Kiryat Haim.
Netanyahu could behave completely differently. He could throw away the nation-state law, promoting in its stead a law providing more equality to Israel’s Arab citizens. He could bring Arabs closer to him, embracing them and telling them that this state is theirs just as it is his. He could broadcast humanity and warmth, strenghtening their loyalty to the state, allowing us to meet them in all walks of life, with them loving this country and hoping for its success.
But Netanyahu has chosen the opposite path, the road of incitement and incendiarism, which he believes ensures his victory in elections. He may win, but the price will be unbearable. He is leading us into a dead end, to a civil war pitching Jews against Arabs. This war will quickly expand to a war of Jews against Jews. That will be the final battle, signaling the end of the Third Commonwealth.