Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, described various comments made by the head of Otzma Yehudit as “incitement to racism.”
But the fringe political party would not have captured much media, and political attention was it not for its ties with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The controversy started on February 20, when Otzma Yehudit entered into an electoral alliance with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
Indeed, the issue is politically motivated, rather than a moral judgment on what Otzma Yehudit truly represents.
Thus, it was no surprise that the anger in Israel took place mostly within certain political circles. The leader of the Meretz opposition party, Tamar Zandberg, was one of the most outspoken against the Likud-Otzma-Yehudit alliance. “The place of people who believe in the superiority of race is behind bars, not in parliament,” she said in a statement.
Outside Israel, the rejection of Netanyahu’s move went even further than political alliances. Even the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the influential pro-Israel lobby group in the United States and close ally of Netanyahu, seemed angered by the move. “The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel,” AIPAC tweeted.
But, with that in mind, how is one to explain the relatively muted reaction to Netanyahu’s declaration on March 9, that Israel “is the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people”?
His racially-motivated statement was not followed by any AIPAC emphasis on Israel’s “core values.” No one called for the banning of Netanyahu from participating in the elections either. In fact, despite the severe opposition he is facing, the long-serving Israeli Prime Minister is still favoured to win.
For Palestinians, on the other hand, as far as their history of ethnic cleansing or the daily reality of apartheid and military occupation is concerned, the difference between Otzma Yehudit and the Likud, if any, is hardly decipherable. Their reality of oppression remains unchanged not matter who is in power.
This long history of Israeli racism is in a constant state of renewal. Only last May, Israel passed its Nation-state law which ended, once and for all, any supposed confusion about Israel’s identity. The new law openly declared Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” completely disregarding the Palestinian people and entirely disregarding their rights, culture, language and history.
Neither the constitution of Otzma Yehudit and the many racists and violent pronouncements of Ben-Ari, nor the myriad offensive statements made routinely by top Israeli officials (the likes of Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett and Ariel Uri), differs from the text of the Nation-state law.
So why the selective reactions?
The answer lies in Israel’s ability to promote itself as a model of such values as democracy, transparency and political stability, while actively pursuing its true objectives of racial supremacy, military occupation and apartheid.
Take the recurring topic of terrorism as an example. For many years, but especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Israel has emerged as a model for two global constituencies. On the one hand, it is seen by some world governments, especially in the West, as a crusader against terrorism, while on the other hand, it is increasingly celebrated by various far-right ideologues and linked terrorist groupings for its racism and violence against their perceived common enemy: Muslims.
While Israel’s ‘war on terror’ has been the subject of recurring discussion as a constructive and successful model by the likes of Fox News and other media, its critical role in engaging and finding common cause with far-right groups has been large, if not entirely, hidden from mainstream view.
Israel’s ongoing challenge is to separate between these two political discourses to be seen as a victim of terror in polite company while inciting the growing global Islamophobic sentiment. In other words, just as Otzma Yehudit needed to be separated from the fork-tongued Israeli politicians, so too does Israel’s contrary roles on the world’s political stage.
While Ben-Ari is to be denied participation in the next elections in Israel, he must be comforted by the fact that his breed of racism, incitement to violence and deep-seated hatred for Palestinians is now the ‘core value’ that defines Israel, its mainstream politicians and the very laws that are protected by the Supreme Court
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.