“Every day that Ayman Odeh is not in prison is a failure of law enforcement,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said of the chairman of the Joint List, the third largest bloc in the Knesset. Interior Minister Gilad Erdan — who lost no haste in pronouncing Yakub Abu al-Kian, who was shot dead by police in Umm al-Hiran, a terrorist — quickly joined in. He announced that he would ask the attorney general to launch a criminal investigation against Odeh, who cursed out a police officer at the hospital where Jafar Farah, the director of Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, was being treated while under arrest in connection to a protest in Haifa.
Lieberman — whose ongoing public career is the real failure of law enforcement — and Erdan — whose right-wing street cred has suffered as a result of what has been seen as his inadequate support for Benjamin Netanyahu during the investigations of the prime minister — illustrate just how grave the situation has become in Israel, which is marching confidently into a Judeo-nationalist future. These cynical politicians know that in today’s Israel, the easiest and safest way to drum up public support is through racist incitement, which has no place in a democratic country. That is how they chose to respond to a small demonstration of Arab citizens protesting the killing at the border of the Gaza Strip.
Erdan and Lieberman simply learned a lesson in dangerous cynicism from their leader. One of Netanyahu’s great successes is in persuading the majority of Israeli Jews that the country’s Arab citizens — who account for around 20 percent of the population — are a fifth column that must not under any circumstances express solidarity with their Palestinian brethren or criticize the government.
The frequent assertions according to which the Joint List’s lawmakers should limit themselves to civil matters, such as “infrastructure and education,” constitute political suppression and outright racism couched as rationalist argument. Citizens in a democratic state may and should engage with their national identity and are permitted to criticize the government and to demonstrate against it. Israel has a duty to find ways to contain the complex relationship of Israel’s Arab citizens to the state and it must demonstrate sensitivity, particularly during moments of escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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The claims regarding the behavior of Odeh, who was prevented from visiting Farah, who was injured at the demonstration, fall into that category of racism and distortion of the truth. Given the brutal suppression by police of a demonstration by minority members, focusing on Odeh’s curses creates a false symmetry in the equation of violence. Odeh and the Arabs are the victims of the state, not the other way around.
Any citizen who seeks to live in a democracy should be disturbed by the wanton, racist incitement by Israel’s leadership against the Arabs.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.