Yonatan Gher
Director, Amnesty International Israel

Brace for the worst incitement yet

Elections are upon us. It is plain that our prime minister chose to go to elections following developments in the corruption and other charges looming over him. Just last month Neyanyahu said that it would be wrong and “irresponsible” to bring down the government and force new elections during “one of our most difficult security periods.”

What changed? The state prosecutor’s indictment recommendations handed in last week, forcing Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to stop dragging his feet and move forward on an indictment decision. Mandelblit has since announced that he would not announce an indictment close to the elections, meaning he will likely either announce in the coming weeks, or after the elections. Either way, and in my opinion especially under the first option, Netanyahu wants to be able to say that he was reelected despite the public’s knowledge of his accusations, and therefor does not need to resign when the indictment is issued. After that – “Either the dog dies or the nobleman dies” – goes the Hebrew expression (taken from a tale in which a Jewish man promised a nobleman that he can teach his dog to sing. Thereafter, fearing the nobleman’s wrath, he utilizes every possible delay tactic, hoping that eventually “either the dog dies or the nobleman dies,” saving the man’s skin).

Given this, Netanyahu cannot afford to lose, as to him these are not elections for the better of the country, but elections to save him and his family from jail (which to him are one and the same). Thus, despite all polls suggesting he will be the victor of these elections, It is reasonable to expect that this election campaign he is going to light a flame under our country. It will be more gruesome, more inciteful and more damning towards minorities, critics of the government from within the political system and without, the police and the justice system.

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This week’s Torah portion is Shmot (Names). On Shabbat, the Haftarah that will be read in (Ashkenazi) synagogues is taken from the book of Isaiah (27-28). In perfect timing towards these elections, we will be reading verse 11 of chapter 28:

כִּי בְּלַעֲגֵי שָׂפָה וּבְלָשׁוֹן אַחֶרֶת יְדַבֵּר אֶל-הָעָם הַזֶּה

“Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue” (NASB). This verse refers to the false profits, who use word games and rhetoric for the purpose of wooing the people.

In the last elections, Netanyahu famously warned voters that “The Right’s leadership is in danger. Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes…they are being brought in busses by left-wing NGO’s”. He concluded his election video saying that voting “is the only way to protect the State of Israel”.

Palestinian citizens exercising their right to vote is, by the prime minister’s logic, dangerous to Israel. In the coming elections, we will likely see a lot of this ‘Us Vs. Them’ politics which, while Netanyahu is good at, and perhaps wrote some chapters of the book, but is now in no way exclusive to Israel. In the past these were the tactics of fascist regimes, and are currently effectively used by many leaders, such as Victor Urban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippians, and of course Donald Trump in the US. Not surprisingly, these are some of Netanyahu’s favorite people.

Much as Thomas Friedman describes with regard to the current reality in the US, Israel as well has reached its Come to Jesus moment. In both cases, corrupt leaders – allegedly, from a legal stand point and definitely, from a moral one – will go for anything they can: minorities, the media, civil society, for the legal institutions and if they have do for democracy itself, all for self-preservation.

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This is the time to fight back and to stand up for one another. We must see every such statement of incitement, against journalists, law enforcement, the courts, and minorities of any kind as if they are attacks on us personally.

Because they are.

About the Author
The writer is the Director of Amnesty International Israel. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Regional Communications Director of Greenpeace Mediterranean and Spokesperson for the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. Born in New York, Yonatan grew up in Jerusalem, and now lives in Jaffa with his husband and two sons.
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