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Mr. Prime Minister, words are not enough

Netanyahu's video message to Arab citizens contrasts sharply with his record of eroding democratic freedoms

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I, along with other members of the American Jewish community, watched the video you released Monday night with interest. Since you released your remarks in English, I understand that you are interested in Americans hearing them. So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts from those of us at the New Israel Fund and thousands of American Jewish supporters of a progressive, democratic, and equal Israel.

You expressed your view that Palestinian citizens of Israel must be seen as valued and equal citizens in Israeli society. We agree. These are values that we expect to hear from Israel’s leaders.

But given your record on these issues, your laudable words were somewhat surprising. Just last week you shepherded into law a mechanism by which Members of Knesset can subvert the will of the voters to expel other sitting Members of Knesset, a move clearly targeted at the Arab public and their elected representatives. You infamously incited against Palestinian citizens of Israel in the wake of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv this winter. And you dissolved your government twenty months ago after refusing to include the word “equality” in your proposal for a Basic Law that would redefine Israel as “the Nation-State of the Jewish People.”

You have been prime minister of Israel for seven consecutive years now. In that time, we have seen democratic freedoms erode. We’ve seen Israeli society become more divided and more polarized. Your actions and the actions of your top ministers – like Defense Minister Liberman’s comment that Arab citizens who do not display sufficient loyalty to the State should be beheaded, and his criticism last week of Army Radio for educating listeners about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish – have inflamed tensions and have sent the message that Palestinian citizens of Israel, and their history, are not welcome in Israeli society.

I believe that change is always possible. I would like to believe that the speech you posted to YouTube is more than a quick publicity stunt. But your words will be meaningless unless they are part of a sincere change in direction on your part and on the part of your government. The New Israel Fund is committed to the values of equality and democracy. This is what we do every day. If you begin to work to advance these values, you will have many new partners working alongside you.

We will all be looking to see what you do next. As you yourself said: it is not enough to talk about equality, it is action that matters.

In your video you spoke about the Cabinet’s approval of a budget framework resolution that would end decades of discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. This decision is indeed historic. Whether your government fully implements this framework will be one indication that your new rhetoric is being matched by action.

Mr. Prime Minister: you spoke out for equality for the most discriminated-against sector in Israeli society. You said that your election-eve comment about Arabs coming out to vote “in droves” was misunderstood. Around the world, people are watching your video with skepticism, but also with hope that this, perhaps, at last augers a change for the better. I hope you take action to prove that you are a man of your word.

Daniel Sokatch

Daniel Sokatch is CEO of the New Israel Fund
About the Author
Daniel Sokatch is the CEO of the New Israel Fund.
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