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The Speech That President Herzog Did Not Make

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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A man takes a picture with Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem, on Friday.
A man takes a picture with Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem, on Friday.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Here is my proposal version of the speech Isaac Herzog didn’t give last week. The president warned of the “rising violence in Israeli society,” presumably in the wake of assaults by zealous supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu on protesters, and called on party leaders to “raise a moderate, responsible voice.”

Dear Israeli citizens,

On the eve of Yom Kippur, and of another election in a country caught in a political chaos that goes on like a nightmare and weakens its vital systems that yearn for proper governance – I am fearful to the depths of my soul.

Above all I fear the rise of Kahanism – a despicable racist movement that once, in the not-distant past, was boycotted and ostracized by the right as much as the left. People who threaten Israel’s Arab citizens with a second Nakba and their political rivals with deportation are now granted speedy legitimization and have an excellent chance of occupying the most important government ministries.

Their main message is that they’re not ashamed of ideas that must be shameful to a culture that values life. For example, one of the most notable acts of this movement’s most prominent and popular representative in recent years was to demonstrate with a violent crowd outside a ceremony of bereaved families. The protesters spat, cursed and hurled water bottles at the participants, simple because they dared to hold a joint ceremony with Arabs.

I look at the young people who follow Kahanism, who shout “death to Arabs” and “death to leftists” without thinking there’s anything wrong with it. I look at the Haredim, who once eschewed ultranationalism but in the past two decades have been infected by blatant racism. I look at their leaders who were once not afraid to highlight their moderate tendencies, such as Arye Dery and Moshe Gafni, and who today are silent and self-deprecating in the face of Kahanism because they fear losing some of their power.

I look at Israel’s largest party, whose leader is embroiled in a personal dispute with the law enforcement system, and see how the justice system’s destruction has become the keystone of its ideology. I am deeply afraid of a dangerous intersection between a former prime minister’s personal interest and the ideological one of people like Yariv Levin. I believe this intersection could, with high likelihood, destroy Israeli democracy, which, despite its faults and weaknesses, is better than what can be expected to follow.

I know the left and its problematic practices: arrogance, contempt for others and a deep sense of entitlement. I am a victim of some of these practices and bear a grudge against the left for turning against me when I tried to lead it. But I must admit that physical violence is the problem of one camp only. The bullets and punches always come from one side – from the right. I’m not a big soccer fan, but I suggest taking a look at what happened in the bleachers and stadiums from the time a team like Beitar Jerusalem was taken hostage by La Familia, an organization that prides itself for its anti-Arab racism. I fear this is what will happen on our streets.

I’m not blind to the fact that in the Arab communities, crime organizations thrive. They intimidate and kill innocent children and women. The violent events during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021 were just a trailer for the bloodbath the next time, when the heavy artillery comes out of the basements. Yet all the problems in Arab communities – even the most terrible, such as femicide and the mistreatment of LBGTQ people – do not in the slightest justify the legitimization of Kahanism in the Jewish street.

The fact that until now I could not say these things explicitly and was forced to hide behind phrases like “Don’t let the extremist and violent voices lead us to abysses of hatred; we mustn’t see as an enemy those who think differently from us,” is part of the problem. There will always be populist hooligans. The fundamental question at every historic juncture is who stops them.

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