Editorial

Netanyahu the Inciter, Version 2.0

Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, September 1, 2019.
Tomer Applebaum

New technologies bring new means of incitement. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom incitement is his daily bread, doesn’t hesitate to use them. On his Facebook page, Netanyahu used the Messenger app to contact followers who agreed to talk with floating voters for him. In the script he gave them, he asked them to say, “A dangerous government with Lapid, Odeh, Gantz and Lieberman must not be established in another week. A weak, secular, left-wing government that relies on the Arabs, who want to annihilate all of us – women children and men – and allow a nuclear Iran that will exterminate us.”

As we all know, this isn’t the first time Netanyahu has incited against Arabs shortly before an election. His appeal to the public on Election Day in 2015 is still remembered with revulsion: He posted a video on Facebook warning that “Arab voters are coming to the polls in droves.”

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His latest comments are the same racist lady in a different technological dress. But there’s one difference: Four years ago, according to Netanyahu, the Arabs only wanted to topple the right-wing government. This year, Netanyahu has lost what little shame he had back in the ‘’age of innocence” of 2015. He now accuses the Arabs of wanting to annihilate us all.

Hatred of Arabs and incitement against them are so common that the public seems apathetic to new manifestations of them. But we must not become inured to this. We must not accept the fact that the prime minister has stigmatized a fifth of the public as a dangerous internal enemy, one seeking to annihilate all the rest, as if this were self-evident. Democracies are judged by their treatment of minorities. Netanyahu has crossed every possible line.

The message sent to users through Netanyahu's Facebook page.
Screengrab

Just like in 2015, this time, too, Netanyahu first incited and then apologized. “This was a mistake by a campaign worker,” his Likud party said, feigning innocence. “The prime minister didn’t see these statements and didn’t approve them; they weren’t said on his behalf and aren’t acceptable to him. When these statements were brought to his attention, he asked that they be removed immediately.” But the dangerous message had already been sent, and the damage had already been done.

“Netanyahu is a psychopath with no red lines; he wants to see blood,” Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab parties’ Joint List, said in response. His anger is both understandable and justified. Odeh has asked Facebook to put an end to Netanyahu’s dangerous racist incitement. But this isn’t enough.

We must not let Odeh and the other Arab Knesset members stand alone in the face of this attack on them. Netanyahu’s incitement is aimed at the Arabs, but it’s an attack on Israeli society as a whole. Netanyahu is crudely sabotaging our shared fabric of life. He is demonizing the Arab minority and setting Israelis against each other. This is a moment of truth for all Knesset members. They must stand alongside the Arab minority and show Netanyahu where the limits are.

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