Jonathan S. Tobin
It’s a familiar refrain. Critics of Israel aren’t content to merely bash the policies of the government of the Jewish state. As part of their indictment, they allege that Israeli politics is conducted in a racial manner. The accusations start with claims that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used racist rhetoric against Arab voters in 2015. The latest charge has been lodged against Netanyahu’s principle opponent in this year’s election, former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz. He is accused of basing his successful campaign rollout on his military record during which he led the country’s counter-attacks against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
In what one Palestinian advocate writing in The Forward claimed is a “reverse beauty contest,” the vote in the Middle East’s only democracy was portrayed as being largely driven by “celebrating the killing, abuse, impoverishment and incitement against Palestinians.” It bemoaned ads that are “glorifying killing Palestinians, destroying our homes, mocking our way of life … and holding up our murderers as patriots.”
But there are two things that are deeply wrong about this argument.
One is that it took Netanyahu’s comments out of context and mischaracterizes the ads run by Gantz, as well as some Likud Knesset members like former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter.
It’s also wrong because those who throw around largely inaccurate charges about Israeli racism seem to have no interest in the incontrovertible proof that anti-Semitism from the Palestinian Authority and Hamas spews forth on a daily basis from their official organs and educational system.
What they broadcast, publish and teach is objectively hateful in a way that Israeli statements lambasted by critics are not. It is also directly linked to acts of violence, such as the horrific murder of an Israeli teenager last week. That killer has now admitted not only to the crime, but pointedly told the Israeli police that he had “nationalist” motives in seeking out a Jewish girl for rape and murder. It’s no use trying to pretend that such heinous acts are not encouraged and rewarded by mainstream Palestinian society.
As for evidence of Israeli racism, let’s concede that the Jewish state has its share of louts, hotheads and yes, haters. But such people are not lauded as heroes or role models. They are generally condemned and face prosecution if they translate their vile talk into unlawful action.
The evidence for Netanyahu’s racism is based on a single comment he made during last-minute campaign stops on election day in 2015 in which he said: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
That sounds bad, and it is. It earned Netanyahu condemnation from Israeli Arabs, as well as President Barack Obama. The prime minister subsequently apologized. But appearances notwithstanding, all he was pointing out was that if his base of voters didn’t turn out, the Joint List of Arab parties would earn a larger share of the vote and block the creation of a Likud-led government. Moreover, he was also not wrong about European NGOs intervening in the election and seeking to bolster the vote of the Arab coalition, which is split between supporters of Hamas and secular factions that also want to see the Jewish state eliminated. Seeking to offset their influence is reasonable, not proof of racism, even if Netanyahu chose his words badly.
As for the ads by Gantz and Dichter, the claims in The Forward that their boasts about their role in fighting terrorists were racist is risible. Dichter has nothing to apologize for in speaking of his part in taking out Hamas killers like Yahya Ayyash and Ahmad Jabari. The same is true about Gantz’s command of a 2014 counter-offensive against Hamas terror. Claiming that it is offensive for him to speak of the price Hamas was made to pay is as ridiculous as it would have been to assert that it was in bad taste for Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to campaign for president of the United States in 1952 on the strength of his actions as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces that defeated Nazi Germany.
But the difference here is that while genuine racism exists in Israel—as it does in any other society of imperfect human beings—to claim that the government promotes hate is a bold-faced lie. To the contrary, classic anti-Semitic tropes and blood libels are a staple of the Palestinian Authority’s official press, broadcast media and education system. The same is true of the Hamas government of Gaza. Moreover, the P.A. continues, despite threats of aid cutoffs from the United States, to pay salaries and pensions to imprisoned terrorists and their families.
This reflects a consensus within Palestinian society that those who commit acts of violence against Jews and Israelis are role models and heroes to be celebrated, rather than to be shunned.
Will it be any different for the murderer of Ori Ansbacher, a teenager from the settlement of Tekoa who was doing national service for her country? The Israeli media has reported that the murderer is affiliated with Hamas and said he wanted to be a “martyr.” Unfortunately, nothing that has happened up until now gives us much hope that most Palestinians will treat the death of a Jewish teenager as anything other than a victory for their cause, no matter how egregious the crime.
Neither Israel nor its citizens are perfect. But friends of Israel can be proud of the efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to spare innocent lives even when it means that sometimes terrorists might escape. Moreover, its political system, however flawed it might be, rests on democratic principles that ensure that Israeli Arabs are equal before the law and have rights to representation unknown elsewhere in the region.
Those who wish to talk about racism should point their barbs at Palestinian leaders who bear personal responsibility for creating an environment in which “nationalist” murders like that of Ansbacher are made possible, not at Israel.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.