Incitement, the Best Defense

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Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech during meeting with businessmen in Kiev, Ukraine, Aug. 20, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech during meeting with businessmen in Kiev, Ukraine, Aug. 20, 2019. Credit: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s frontal assault on Channel 12 television was in line with his permanent strategy: If you can’t silence them, incite against them. Plan A failed when the acting chairman of the Central Elections Committee rejected Likud’s request for an injunction that would bar Channel 12’s legal correspondent, Guy Peleg, from continuing to publish statements made by key prosecution witnesses in the cases against Netanyahu prior to the election. So Netanyahu turned to Plan B – libeling Channel 12 as anti-Semitic and urging the public to boycott the station. (For the latest election polls – click here)

“I’m not surprised that Keshet is falsely smearing Israel’s image, since I’m used to Keshet smearing me every day,” Netanyahu said on Facebook, referring to the company that runs Channel 12 and the miniseries “Our Boys.” The message to his voters was clear: L’etat c’est moi, and I am you. Every criticism of me is criticism of you and of the state, and vice versa.

>> Netanyahu seeks to silence critical media by hitting their revenues | Analysis

Netanyahu uses his voters as human shields. When he feels like he’s under attack, he drags his entire electorate onto the same sinking ship. If he goes down, they’ll go down with him. Netanyahu wants them on the verge of paranoia. Primeval hatred for him is what lies at the root of media reports about the criminal cases against him, just as primeval hatred for Jews – anti-Semitism or auto-anti-Semitism – is what lies at the root of critical art in Israel. In both cases, this is a blood libel. Against him, of course, and by extension, against them.

The next day, Netanyahu went on the offensive and libeled Keshet executives, saying they were “committing a terror attack on democracy.” He even publicized his target bank: Keshet’s CEO, Avi Nir; the director of its new company, Avi Weiss; and the company’s controlling shareholders – Drorit Wertheim, who is also chairwoman of Keshet’s board, and Yitzhak Tshuva. Netanyahu’s incitement and threats are so explicit that there’s no room for misinterpretation.

Netanyahu’s modus operandi is familiar to the public. When he’s afraid that he’s about to lose, or is trying to pretend that he is, there’s no limit to what he’s willing to do. The judiciary, the president, the media, the opposition, the press and the police – just like Yitzhak Rabin in the past – are all legitimate targets of unbridled and dangerous incitement. Netanyahu has no problem with taking aim at state institutions even while he’s the prime minister. He has no problem bending Israel’s laws or dragging the entire country into do-over elections; the end of shoring up his rule justifies any means.

Netanyahu’s statements deserve unambiguous condemnation. In a country governed by the rule of law, Knesset members from both sides of the political map should be making their voices heard and showing Netanyahu that his incitement won’t pass quietly. But Israel is no longer there. We can only hope that on Election Day, the public will do this in the MKs’ stead.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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