Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the growing incitement against politicians that Shin Bet security service chief Nadav Argaman warned against Saturday night in effect gave the prime minister’s supporters a green light to continue it.
Argaman reported “a serious increase in and radicalization of violent, inflammatory speech,” including “calls for violence and physical attacks.” He warned that “this speech might well be interpreted by certain groups or individuals as permitting violent, illegal actions that might, heaven forbid, even reach the point of taking a life.” Finally, he asked for the help of politicians, opinion leaders, clerics, educators and ordinary citizens, urging them to “issue a clear, resolute call for an immediate cessation of this violent, inflammatory speech.”
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But none of this interests Netanyahu in the slightest, since his ends have always justified any means. Instead of denouncing the incitement and the threats against public figures in general and against Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and the rest of their Yamina party’s lawmakers in particular – whose only sin is to join a government of change – and stating loudly, clearly and unambiguously that this is not the way, Netanyahu in effect rebuffed the accusations of incitement, gave incitement a green light and even deemed it legitimate to “lay into” journalists.
“Freedom of expression is not incitement,” he said. “It is impossible to treat criticism from the right as incitement and criticism from the left as a legitimate act of freedom of expression. This is an attempt to frame the right as something violent and dangerous to democracy.” For the record, he added a lame, symmetrical condemnation of “any incitement and violence by any side” and hastened to portray himself and his wife as victims of incitement.
This is a criminal manipulation of the facts whose goal is to divert attention from the source of the incitement and danger. Contrary to what Netanyahu said, physical political violence in Israel goes in only one direction – from the right to the left. As evidence, even as Argaman was issuing his warning, senior religious Zionist rabbis, including Haim Drukman, Shlomo Aviner and Shmuel Eliyahu, published an open letter titled “A cry from Israel’s rabbis” in which they urged people “to do everything in their power so that a government like this won’t arise.” Ever since Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, everyone has understood what “everything” includes, even if the next day the rabbis posted a video making it clear that they did not intend any kind of violence, and that violence exists only in the minds of those warning against it. Tell that to Rabin.
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Statements dripping with “both sides” symmetry are insufficient. Argaman and the police must use every tool at their disposal to prevent bloodshed and protect members of the change bloc, who are being threatened, from the people making the threats – members of Netanyahu’s bloc.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.