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Netanyahu with Israeli Arab representatives. 'The incitement did the job, the incitement can be dismissed - until he needs it again' (Photo: New Media - Likud)
Netanyahu with Israeli Arab representatives. 'The incitement did the job, the incitement can be dismissed - until he needs it again' (Photo: New Media - Likud) 
 
Netanyahu sold our birthright for a mess of pottage Photo: AP
Netanyahu sold our birthright for a mess of pottage Photo: AP
 
 
Nahum Barnea  

 

Netanyahu may have apologized, but the damage has been done

Op-ed: The prime minister's apology over his anti-Arab comments wasn't directed at Israel's Arabs; it was directed at the Obama administration, Western European governments and the US Jewry.

Published: 03.24.15, 23:56 / Israel Opinion

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish-American organization which acts under the banner of fighting racism, sent a letter to Israel's prime minister on Monday morning.

 

 

After the acceptable polite comments, Foxman wrote: "I believe it is important for you to express an apology to Israeli Arabs, and reinforcing at the same time your repeatedly expressed view and action that Arabs in Israel are fully equal citizens in the Jewish state."

 

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And Benjamin Netanyahu did apologize. His apology wasn't directed at the Arabs but at others: For example, at the Obama administration, which harshly condemned his inciting comments on Election Day; at the Western European governments, which are looking for a way to punish his government in the international arena; and at the Jewish community in the United States, which has been split by Netanyahu's pre-election moves into two hostile camps.

 

Like with the Palestinian state issue, Netanyahu is trying to make a quick backflip on the Israeli Arab issue too. The incitement did the job, the incitement can be dismissed – until he needs it again.

 

There is some value in Netanyahu's effort to wash off the filth of the election campaign: Quite a few people, both in Israel and abroad, are interested in helping him do the cleaning. Abe Foxman is a good example.

 

If the head of any other state in the world would have spoken about a minority in his country the way Netanyahu spoke about the Arab minority in Israel, the ADL would have showered him with condemnation statements. Foxman kept quiet until Monday. This silence put his organization in an awkward situation. On Monday evening, he issued a statement welcoming Netanyahu's apology.

 

Netanyahu with Israeli Arab representatives. 'The incitement did the job, the incitement can be dismissed - until he needs it again' (Photo: New Media - Likud)
Netanyahu with Israeli Arab representatives. 'The incitement did the job, the incitement can be dismissed - until he needs it again' (Photo: New Media - Likud)

 

Others will welcome the apology too. As opposed to Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett's election slogan, there is no pride, and no sense either, in refusing to apology. Apologizing is an efficient weapon in the political discourse. It is the fig leaf that hypocrisy provides politicians with in order to cover up their shame. It's better that way. The alternative is managing politics in the nude.

 

But the damage has been done. Netanyahu's media blitz on the eve of and during Election Day secured his victory. One has to admire his ability in this area. Now it's time to calculate the cost.

 

Let's begin with the social damage. The impulsive, demagogic nature of Netanyahu's moves succeeded in pulling the ethnic demon out of the bottle. It's an interesting demon: Most of the time, it rests in the bottle without overly interfering in our lives. Every few years, on Election Day, it is pulled out. There is always someone in the left who makes a lousy comment; and there is always someone in the right who celebrates that comment. And then a mud fight begins between Mizrahim who were offended and Ashkenazim who were as offended. A week or two later, the pendulum goes back in place. The damage is in the scratches it leaves behind, from one election campaign to another, from one generation to another.

 

The damage to the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel is as serious. Look at the irony: Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman worked to raise the election threshold in order to flatter Arab-hating voters. The result was an involuntary merger of the Arab lists. The joint list allowed Netanyahu to claim that the Arabs were moving to the voting stations in droves and rising to power. It was a false claim, but it succeeded in moving voters from Lieberman and Bennett to the Likud.

 

What appeared on the eve of the elections as the Arab sector's collective desire to integrate into the Israeli society, a desire which both Jews and Arabs should welcome, took a step back. The racist demon came out of the bottle.

 

The third damage has to do with the relationship between Israel and the Jewish community in America. It's hard to assess this damage in quantitative terms, but it's real. It's enough to read what Jews have been writing in the American media over the past few days. They feel that something has been undermined, not only in regards to Israel and its values, but also in regards to their position in the US.

 

The fourth damage has to do with foreign relations. Israel can take the daily condemnations from sources in the White House. It will find it difficult to take them when they infiltrate into the diplomatic arena, into the European governments, into business firms and international organizations. Netanyahu sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.

 

The Israeli public can only share his regret. The damage affects us, and so does the regret.

 

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