Opinion

Netanyahu and His Government Are Master Panderers of Fear

What really lies behind Israel's desire to send African refugees back to their homelands? Blame it on the Zionist neurosis that the land belongs to the Jews, forever

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting south Tel Aviv, August 2017.
\ Moti Milrod

Precisely during the semantic argument between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and us, the anti-deportationists, over defining the African refugees as “infiltrators,” the Trump administration – to the cheers of the right – cut its support of the UN Relief and Works Agency in order to worsen the situation of the refugees in the West Bank, and exacerbate that of the refugees in the Gazan ghetto to the point of extinction. There wasn’t a single peep.

The ear has learned to block out the sound of the word “refugees” when it refers to Palestinians. Ever since the passage of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 in 1948, the word has had two meanings: victims or enemies. We learned to be tougher or softer according to the context.

Netanyahu can’t even claim the copyright on criminalizing refugees by branding them “infiltrators.” The state, followed by the journalists and soldiers it created, did so resolutely in the decade after independence. Infiltrators were killed en masse, even when all they wanted was to graze their flocks.

What, then, is the difference between the creative work of successive Israeli governments, reciters of text and ritual since the state’s establishment, and Netanyahu and his clones? The answer is that no Israeli leader who preceded him pimped out fear the way he does. Well, maybe Menachem Begin.

Netanyahu only knows one tune: instilling fear. Just think about his UN nuclear-bomb horror show in 2012. Crematoriums are being built all around us and the prime minister stands at the city gate, guarding it with a flag.

He did the same thing with the African refugees. Fear. Culture Minister Miri Regev, the people’s representative, came to start a dispute between the refugees’ supporters and longtime residents of south Tel Aviv. After all, everyone knows the expulsion of refugees is connected to gentrification plans for these neighborhoods: Tens of thousands of square meters of floor space will be built on a few square kilometers. When that happens, the pimp of fear will fall silent and his populist representative will find herself a new entourage.

What is really behind the desire to prevent a few thousand Africans from settling in Israel? Part of it is linked to Netanyahu’s need to flex his iron hand. That hand has pull with voters. It’s easy to give a public whipping to persecuted individuals who are powerless to fight back, whether with knives, Qassam rockets or Kalashnikov rifles.

But there’s something deeper in sending Africans to their deaths – the Zionist neurosis: the land belongs to the Jews, forever. This neurosis operated in Ethiopia, in a cruel selection process that split up families – a cruelty that interests only its victims. It nestles in Israel’s immigrant absorption centers, where the Ethiopian immigrants undergo reeducation and are stuck in them until they pass the exams in the local religion (the eternal religion) and drive from their heads the one they came with (a temporary religion).

This is what one of the right-wing ideologues, Motti Karpel of the Jewish Leadership movement, wrote: “Most of the Arabs living in our land are in effect labor migrants who came from across the Middle East toward the end of the Ottoman era, and with the encouragement of the British Mandate authorities. ... At least, let’s not nurture another ‘Palestinian problem.’ Because tomorrow or the day after – we’ve already heard such voices – it’ll be said that the African labor migrants are also in fact Canaanites, the original inhabitants and owners of this land, and they too will demand their ‘natural rights.’” We shall prevail and all the rest are temporary. The Rock of Israel is riven by fear.

This is the function of religious ownership, which increasingly darkens our national life. It explains the power of Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett and his ultra-Orthodox-Zionist rabbis and the role of Shas Chairman Arye Dery in the expulsions. Let us not cite biblical verses regarding the treatment of the non-Jew, the ger, because the abovementioned will respond with something about the time of the Messiah. Don’t talk to them about Jewish fate and the Holocaust, for the Shoah is theirs. For years now, meaningful resistance against the government’s wickedness hasn’t stood a chance. We shall resist – not only out of hatred for the government, but out of love for humanity.