Tragedies are a time for soul-searching and deep reflection for some. For others, they are an opportunity to make political capital and to fan the flames of hatred.
Benjamin Netanyahu tends to fall squarely into the latter category. At a Tel Aviv bar where authorities believe a terror attack took place leaving two dead and seven wounded, the Israeli prime minister took aim at the 21 percent of Israeli citizens who identify themselves as Palestinian or Arab.
He demanded “loyalty to the state’s laws from everyone“, claiming that Arab areas of Israel were crime-ridden, lawless and radicalised enclaves. While crime is a greater problem in Arab towns and villages than in Jewish ones, this is partly due to decades of neglect by the state, which has been more concerned with the security threat Palestinians in Israel potentially pose than to the threats posed to them.
While incitement does occur, what Netanyahu is wilfully ignoring is that the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel are peaceful and obey the laws of a state which increasingly discriminates against them, and this despite being citizens of a country which erased their homeland and occupies their compatriots in the West Bank and Gaza.
More insidiously, while condemning incitement when committed by Palestinians, Netanyahu, in contrast to the moral courage displayed by President Reuven Rivlin, is silent about, excuses or even defends the Jewish inciters in Israel, many of whom are members of his party or coalition.
In some cases, he even promotes them. Take the firebrand of the far-right Jewish Home party, Ayelet Shaked. Despite her track record of incitement, including during the 2014 Gaza war, Netanyahu appointed her justice minister, without betraying a hint of irony. In this capacity, she has widened her net to include not only Palestinians, but also the Israeli supreme court and leftist NGOs.
Incitement also helped Netanyahu to win the 2015 election, when he warned supporters that “the right-wing government is in danger” because “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” as part of a sinister leftist plot involving “left-wing NGOs [who] are bringing them in buses”.
In fact, the smooth-tongued Bibi, as his supporters affectionately call him, has a long track record of dangerous incitement. Leah Rabin, for one, had no doubt that Netanyahu, along with other members of the hard right, was responsible for creating the toxic atmosphere of hate which facilitated the assassination of her husband, Yitzhak Rabin.
Despite his two decades at the wheel of the juggernaut driving Israel off a cliff, Netanyahu had the audacity to tell Arabs at the weekend: “Whoever wants to be Israeli must be Israeli all the way.”
Like far-right rhetoric elsewhere, his comments imply that citizenship for the majority is an inalienable birth right, no matter how much they undermine the state, while for marginalised minorities it is a favour which must be earned and for which they must constantly express gratitude.
“I will not accept two states within Israel,” Netanyahu insisted, suggesting that Palestinian-Israelis are a state within a state.
What Netanyahu’s self-righteous rhetoric overlooks is that Israel, when you include all the territory it controls, is composed of at least half a dozen unequal states, according to my count. At the top of the pyramid sit Israeli Jews, though they are also subdivided according to ethnicity and class.
Then there are the Palestinian and Arab citizens of Israel, who theoretically have equality with their Jewish compatriots and enjoy it in the more enlightened corners of society. However, this is undermined by the legal system – which contains at least 50 laws which discriminate against Arabs, according to the legal centre Adalah – as well as other forms of racism and discrimination.
Although Jerusalem was annexed by Israel, its Palestinian inhabitants live under the precarious status of “permanent residents“, thereby turning natives into immigrants, and allowing the state to strip them of that status on the flimsiest of pretexts.