Driving in Bnai Brak yesterday I saw a billboard with the sentence: “Defamation/slandering does not appeal to me.” In Hebrew the phrase is especially powerful. The equivalent of  defamation is “evil tongue” and  “does not appeal to me” is “does not speak to me.” In Hebrew the words constitute a pun as the emphasis here is on the evil caused when we don’t shut our mouth.

The Bible forbids slandering, in Leviticus 19, among other commandments, there is one about slandering: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.” (16).

In today’s world, here in  Israel, the Law of Defamation (1965) is supposed to protect people’s dignity and reputation and to prevent degrading a person or a group of people because of race, national origin, religion,  place of residence, etc. Article 1 of the Law clarifies that defamation occurs when  a person (individual or corporation) is belittled in the eyes of people and it could lead to hatred.

If degrading groups of people sounds familiar, it is because that exactly what has been happening in Israel lately, before, during and after the elections. The left was slandered by the right, Ashkenazi Jews by Sephardic religious leaders, people who kiss talismans (superstitious?) by an unfortunate Ashkenazi speaker, and so on. It will take a while to mend those unwelcome fallout of our elections. However, it will take even longer to mend that kind of defamation which was directed toward Arab citizens:

I would like to focus on two instances: Two weeks before the election, the politician Hanin Zoabi, a Knesset member and a candidate, appeared in Ramat Gan College of Law and  a right wing hooligan spilled juice over her face. As though attacking a public figure wasn’t severe enough, a day later a “prestigious” Bed and Breakfast (Zimmer) in the north announced on its Facebook page that it was awarding the attacker with a free vacation in their establishment.

Facebook unfortunately does not observe the laws regarding defamation and did not respond to numerous requests to take off this offensive and outrageous ad. Thus social media played a part in inciting hatred as Hanin Zoabi was slandered because of her race, gender and affiliation.

But how could we complain about misguided Israelis (the owner of the B&B and his followers) when our own prime minister is busy defaming a large percentage of the Israeli public? On the day of the election the candidate Bibi Netanyahu forgot that he was also Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu and, abusing his authority, urged his supporters to go the polls and vote since “Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.”

There is a famous saying: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This is false of course. We may say it to our children as a way to help them deal with verbal bullying, but words are hurtful and powerful.

Netanyahu is the bully: once again he has showed his cynicism and disregard to others as he goes about spreading slander among his people. No wonder that even when he says that he is sorry, no one believes that his apology is sincere