Can we take seriously the regret expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over comments he made on Election Day that “Arabs are voting in droves, left-wing NGOs are bringing them in busloads”? Can we integrate the condescending and racist attitude he demonstrated a week ago with what he read aloud earlier this week to representatives of the Arab, Druze and Circassian communities, some of them members of Likud, like a staged theater production?
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The answer appears to lie in the same well-known tactic that Netanyahu has raised to an art form: Ignite a dangerous and divisive blaze to garner electoral gains, then extinguish the flames to enable his continued control without undue disturbance.
Netanyahu used the same tactic recently on the matter of a Palestinian state: When he needed right-wing voters, he declared that there would be no Palestinian state. After he won the election, he declared in an interview with U.S. television network NBC that he was not retracting his Bar-Ilan speech and still believes in the two-state solution.
This leads us to the conclusion that we cannot attribute too much significance to Netanyahu’s words. The prime minister must be judged only by his actions. When he claims, for instance, that in contrast to what some understood from his comments “my deeds as prime minister, including tremendous investment in minority sectors, prove the exact opposite,” then we must wonder if this is, in fact, the case.
Netanyahu headed a government that promoted anti-democratic legislation, that espoused incitement on a weekly basis and expressed clear intolerance of the voices of Arabs who did not toe the Knesset’s nationalist line. It was reported on Tuesday by Haaretz that Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett discussed pushing the nation-state and NGO bills as part of coalition negotiations. Netanyahu certainly understands that these two bills are a red flag for Israel’s Arab population.
How should an Arab citizen feel in light of the desire to emphasize the superiority of Judaism over democracy in the state in which he lives? How should Arab citizens feel when the non-profit organizations that seek to support them and promote equality for all citizens are deemed illegitimate and the state tries to place obstacles in their paths?
If Netanyahu thinks that monetary transfers to Arab communities will make up for insulting and exclusionary treatment, he is wrong. A lip-service apology is also not enough. If Netanyahu does mean what he says, he must nip in the bud the anti-democratic legislation, including the nation-state bill and the NGO bill. He will be judged only on this.