Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s call to boycott Arab businesses that shut their doors to protest Operation Protective Edge is another act of dangerous and cynical incitement by the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, which proves that he won’t hesitate to exploit these days of tension and fear to score political points among the extreme right wing. To achieve this Lieberman is prepared to inflame passions, set citizens against one another, and trample the basic values of a democratic regime.
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Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, like all other citizens, have the absolute right to protest government policies, especially when that protest is expressed in a nonviolent way, such as closing one’s store.
This “populist” initiative by Lieberman, who has forgotten that he is a senior minister and not just a political huckster, is the natural continuation of similar legislation initiated by him and his cabinet colleagues, both in this government and the one preceding it, aimed at silencing criticism and inciting against minorities. Laws like the Boycott Law and bills like the “nonprofit association law” call for state-sponsored punishment, including economic sanctions, against those who criticize government policy, while laws like the Nakba Law and bills like the “contributors to the state law” contribute to blackening the reputation of Palestinians in Israel.
Against the background of this policy, it is not surprising that Israeli discourse has sunk to one of its lowest points ever, saturated with calls for silencing dissenting views and violence. The message conveyed to citizens is that criticism of the government will be translated into some kind of harm to them — if not physical harm, then economic or professional damage. An example is this week’s decision by Mano Maritime to drop actress Orna Banai from its advertising campaign, after she sarcastically referred to herself in an interview as “a deluded leftist who loves Arabs,” and expressed opposition to the fighting in Gaza and pain over the deaths of civilians on both sides.
This incitement, which rolls from the top echelons of the Israeli government down into society, eventually evolves into the physical violence that has become commonplace at demonstrations, when right-wing activists attack those protesting government policy while shouting “Death to Arabs,” and “Death to leftists.”
The racist incitement disseminated by Lieberman – and not for the first time — is part of an ugly wave that threatens Israel’s image. Cabinet members, first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ought to unequivocally condemn such statements and renounce the foreign minister’s dangerous initiative.