With Revenge in the Air, This Is Netanyahu’s Moment of Truth

The prime minister must denounce the calls for vengeance and do everything in his power to dilute the atmosphere of incitement.

AP

“Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet devised.”

That line, from Haim Nahman Bialik’s poem “On the Slaughter,” was quoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a meeting of the diplomatic-security cabinet shortly after the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel were found.

“On the Slaughter” was written in response to the 1903 Kishinev pogrom in Tsarist Russia, an incident in which an anti-Semitic atmosphere spurred the murder of dozens of defenseless Jews.

But Israel is an independent, sovereign state with a strong army, modern institutions of government and a stable economy. In many senses, it is the obvious answer to the powerlessness described in “On the Slaughter.” Nevertheless, Netanyahu, the man whose job is to bolster the citizens’ sense of sovereignty, opts over and over to foment feelings of anger and frustration, which generate a sense of persecution and victimhood among the public.

This dangerous practice, which receives constant reinforcement from the government’s extreme right wing, charges the atmosphere with violence and a thirst for revenge. Dozens of groups calling for revenge have sprouted on social networks over the last few days; one such group alone, calling itself “the people of Israel demands vengeance,” has been joined by 32,000 people.

Teens have posted pictures of themselves holding posters bearing Stars or David and calls for revenge, or pictures of berets and other symbols of army units alongside calls for revenge. Surfers have uploaded video clips that urge, “Slaughter MK Haneen Zoabi,” and Jewish mobs have tried to assault Arabs.

All these are frightening expressions of the same ugly public atmosphere, which has been fueled by the irresponsible statements of our leaders.

A modern country is supposed to prevent Biblical-style acts of vengeance and atrocities. Anger and frustration, or the lament of a poet from the early years of the previous century, are not a basis for policy; they merely remove the public’s inhibitions and grant legitimacy to the Facebook avengers and the racist thugs.

This is a critical moment. Netanyahu must set political and tactical considerations aside and start infusing the term “leader” with content. He must denounce the calls for vengeance and do everything in his power to dilute the atmosphere of incitement, which may already have led to the murder of a Palestinian boy.

This is his moment of truth.