Opinion |

Likud’s Open Season on Arabs

עיסאווי פריג' - צרובה
Esawi Freige
Benjamin Netanyahu, during a Likud meeting, last week.
Benjamin Netanyahu, during a Likud meeting, last week. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
עיסאווי פריג' - צרובה
Esawi Freige

A Likud Israeli lawmaker threatened the Arab community on Wednesday of another "Nakba" [The Arab word for catastrophe referring to the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian Arabs] and put up a video on Twitter staring himself speaking from the Knesset.

"Yesterday I warned the Arab students, who are flying Palestine flags at universities: Remember 48. Remember our independence war and your Nakba, don't stretch the rope too much. […] If you don't calm down, we'll teach you a lesson that won't be forgotten," Katz, who was Israel's foreign minister a few years ago and former cabinet minister warned.

Katz's warning is part of a broader campaign launched by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party, that seeks to gain power by declaring open season on Israel’s Arab citizens. And the supporters of this message are no longer just a bunch of “wild weeds,” represented by far-right lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Benzi Gopstein or even Bezalel Smotrich.

The Likud members are apparently trying to copycat Ben-Gvir’s success by launching their own election campaign based on incitement against Israeli Arabs. Lawmaker Miki Zohar, another member of the wonderful Likud gang, also complained that Israel’s Arab citizens were “rearing their heads,” and in a conversation with Israeli Journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, he warned that “Arabs are taking over the country.” But neither of Katz nor Zohar are the only ones trying to capitalize on anti-Arab sentiments to gain more power.

Headed by a hysterical leader with no inhibitions, Likud is turning into the banned Kahanist movement, only a thousand times more dangerous. With the encouragement of party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kahanist rhetoric is becoming the norm while incitement and racism serve as the Likud campaign's foundations.

In an effort to undermine the legitimacy of the government, the main opposition party does not play by the democratic rules anymore. In this game, Israel’s Arab citizens are just pawns used by the Likud to undermine the government, and in the process halt Ben-Gvir’s electoral surge.

We shouldn’t be afraid to express opinions and try to change things, but we must remember that the other side isn’t just bad, it’s monstrous and that the political alternative to the current government isn’t just a rightist government, but a racist one. A government that will seek to make its citizens “bow their heads” and that will fight against one fifth of Israel’s population.

Open season has been declared and all that's left is to wait for someone to internalize the message and put it into practice. The danger to the country and its citizens is real, and it compels us, as citizens, to preserve the current government at all costs.

In addition, we, the Arabs, are just the first in line. The Jewish left will come immediately after us, and after that anyone else who doesn’t agree with their rightist line. A party that has no qualms about running a campaign against a specific group of its citizens won’t stop there.

What we are seeing today in Russia seems so far off and frightening, but the same atrocity could also happen here if Likud lawmakers' rhetoric were to turn words into deeds.

Katz’s nightmare speech must be a wake-up call to everyone who cares about democracy. We aren’t engaged in a political spat, but in a war for democracy and for our ability to live in Israel as free citizens.

The Likud party is led by a man with no restraints, with no principle but one: getting back his power. And if he does, there would be no democratic nor moral value he won’t be willing to give up on to remain there.

This is a final warning to everyone who cares about democracy – we must not make any mistakes, or we will pay the price.

Esawi Freige is the regional cooperation minister.

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