Editorial

The Apartheid Prime Minister

Netanyahu has given up on democracy and made it his mission to strengthen international recognition of Israel as 'the state of the Jewish people,' and their state alone

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem,  July 29, 2018.
Sebastian Scheiner /Reuters

There is someone responsible for the nation-state law and that someone is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although he usually leaves controversial decisions to his political partners, this time Netanyahu positioned himself front and center in support of the constitutional discrimination against Israeli citizens who are not Jewish.

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Netanyahu made it clear Friday to Druze leaders who asked him to amend the law that he was prepared to give the Druze economic benefits but would not change the legislation’s discriminatory wording. On Sunday he attacked the left (“They need to do some soul-searching”), and demanded that Likud ministers “fight for the truth,” a barb at his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett, who suggested amending the law to accommodate the Druze.

Netanyahu’s position is not surprising. For years he has described the Arab citizens of Israel as a nuisance. As finance minister, he called them a “demographic problem,” and last Election Day he posted that video in which he warned, “The Arabs are heading to the polls in droves.” As prime minister, Netanyahu has visited Arab communities only rarely, and has never shown any interest in the culture or distress in Arab society here. At most, he is prepared to offer “economic peace,” expressed in the transfer of budgets to Arab communities, while suppressing Arab political expression, with the Nakba Law, for example, or the state’s disregard for this minority’s history and heritage.

>>  Netanyahu attacks left as criticism mounts against the nation-state law ■ 'When we’re in uniform they treat us well': Israel's Druze no longer feel like blood brothers ■ Netanyahu’s incitement on nation-state law heralds approach of Israel’s day of reckoning << 

The vote on the law has updated the political fault line in Israel: the discrimination camp vs. the equality camp; the supporters of apartheid against the supporters of democracy. It is true that Israel’s Arab citizens have been discriminated against since the state’s establishment by the governments on both the left and right. But liberal basic laws and High Court of Justice rulings during the past generation advanced the drive toward equality and integrating the minority, which Netanyahu is now seeking to destroy.

The opposition, now headed by Tzipi Livni, must unite, as it did in the vote on the nation-state law, and present the public with a strong, simple message: equality. There is no more appropriate foundation for Israel’s future as a prosperous democratic society. Netanyahu must not be allowed to rip the Declaration of Independence to shreds and turn Israel into a whitewashed version of the occupation regime in the territories.

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