This week the prime minister of Israel slandered Arabs in disgustingly racist terms. This was nothing new for the man who, during the last election, warned the Israeli people that “the Arabs” were turning out to vote “in droves”. But the terminology he used was a notable new low, even for him.
Touring a new border fence between part of present-day Israel and Jordan, Benjamin Netanyahu said: “In our neighbourhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts. At the end of the day as I see it, there will be a fence like this one surrounding Israel in its entirety. We will surround the entire state of Israel with a fence, a barrier.”
For Israel’s politicians use such dehumanising terminology about Palestinians and other Arabs is nothing new. Israeli leaders have a long history of such racism, stretching back to the pre-state Zionist settler-colonial era. It also draws on the long history of Western colonial racism.
Ehud Barak is a former leader of Israel’s supposedly “moderate” opposition Labour party. In reality, he is a notorious racist, a killer of Palestinian civilians and a systematic war criminal.
Barak once deliberately invoked the bigoted mythology of the British Empire, referring to Israel as a “villa in the jungle”. It was a naked appeal to the shared values of Israel and other, older forms of European colonialism: genocide and systematic white supremacy.
Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s current minister for war, apparently considers Palestinians to be beneath even animals. In a 2002 interview Yaalon said that the “Palestinian threat” was “like cancer”. He proposed the exterminationist solution of “applying chemotherapy”.
And what is it with Israeli ministers comparing human beings to cancer? In 2012 Miri Regev (then an MP in Netanyahu’s Likud party and now promoted to Israel’s culture minister) took part in inciting a violent program against African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv. She told the mob that African refugees were “a cancer in the body” of the nation. She later posed an online video in which she apologised – not to Africans for likening them to cancer, but to cancer patients for daring to compare them to Africans: “Heaven forbid… I did not compare them to human beings.”
Another current Israeli minister has a very recent history of using genocidal language. Justice minister Ayelet Shaked in 2014 posted an article to her Facebook page which declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and justified its destruction, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”
It called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
Rafael Eitan was an Israeli army chief of staff, and later a right-wing politician. He was involved in commanding the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which killed more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian people. Israel at the time had alighted on the strategy of working hand-in-glove with extremist Christian militias in Lebanon, such as the Phalange. It was these religious fanatics who were responsible for the infamous Sabra and Shatlila massacre of Palestinian refugees. They were ordered into those camps by Israel.
Eitan in 1983 disgustingly called Palestinians “drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”
The remark that Netanyahu’s resembles most is of course former that of another Likud Prime Minister, one from the late 1970s and early ’80s: Menachim Begin. He once claimed that Israel would “defend” itself from the “two-legged beast[s]” which attack it.
“Beasts,” denizens of the “jungle,” “cancer,” “little snakes,” “cockroaches” – notice a pattern? According Israel’s leaders, Arabs are not human.
The real “wild beasts” are racism, settler-colonialism and white supremacy.
It is a trick as old as empire itself. In order to justify in one’s own mind why you are crushing other human beings, one must balance out the cognitive dissonance in some way, convincing yourself that your enemies are less than human.
The empire’s ideologues tell themselves they are humanistic, better than all previous empires, only wanting to bring culture and enlightenment to the “dark” areas of the globe. But when the reality is that your soldiers are killing other human beings en masse, there must be some way of dealing with that reality.
All to often it is to denigrate the enemy as not human in some fashion or another.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.