Israeli Racism Unmasks Netanyahu Goodwill Video
18 August 2016
By Jonathan Cook in
Was it meant as an epic parody or an insult to his audience's intelligence? It
was hard to tell.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media to apologise
for last year's notorious election-day comment, when he warned that ''the
Arabs are coming out to vote in droves'' – a reference to the fifth of
Israel's population who are Palestinian.
In videos released last week in English and Hebrew, Netanyahu urged
Palestinian citizens to become more active in public life. They needed to
''work in droves, study in droves, thrive in droves,'' he said. ''I am proud
of the role Arabs play in Israel's success''.
Pointedly, Ayman Odeh, head of the Palestinian-dominated Joint List party,
noted that 100,000 Bedouin citizens could not watch the video because Israel
denies their communities electricity, internet connections and all other
Swiftly and predictably, the reality of life for Israel's 1.7 million
Palestinians upstaged Netanyahu's fine words.
In a radio interview, Moti Dotan, the head of the Lower Galilee regional
council, sent a message to his Palestinian neighbours: ''I don't want them at
my [swimming] pools.'' Sounding like a mayor in the southern United States
during the Jim Crow-era, he added: ''Their culture of cleanliness isn't the
same as ours. Why is that racist?''
Dotan was no extremist, observed the liberal newspaper Haaretz. He represents
the Israeli mainstream. Notably, Netanyahu did not distance himself from
At the same time, Samar Qupty, star of a new film on Palestinians in Israel
called Junction 48, was questioned for two hours and then strip searched at
Ben Gurion airport and denied her hand luggage before being allowed to fly to
an international film festival.
Stories of state-sponsored humiliation at the airport are routine for Israel's
Palestinian academics, journalists, actors and community leaders – in fact,
for any Palestinian active in the public sphere.
The list of restrictions on Palestinian citizens is long and growing. A
database by the legal group Adalah shows that some 60 Israeli laws explicitly
discriminate against non-Jews, with another 18 in the pipeline.
Two laws passed last month intensify the repression of dissent. An Expulsion
Law is designed to empower Israeli MPs to oust Palestinian lawmakers whose
views offend them, while a Transparency Law stigmatises human rights groups
working to protect Palestinian rights.
Recently leaked protocols reveal that the police have secretly awarded
themselves powers to use live fire against Palestinian protesters in Israel,
even if they pose no danger. Yet another law threatens jail for any
Palestinian citizen who tries to dissuade another from volunteering in the
Growing numbers of Palestinian citizens, including poets and writers, are
being jailed or put under house arrest for posts on social media the Israeli
authorities disapprove of.
Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman recently compared the work of the
Palestinians' national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Darwish
is banned from school curriculums.
The culture minister, Miri Regev, meanwhile, has tied state funding for
theatre and dance companies to their readiness to perform in Jewish
settlements, illegally located in the occupied territories in the West Bank.
In his video, Netanyahu said: ''Jews and Arabs should reach out to each other,
get to know each other's families. Listen to each other.''
And yet his officials have just halved funding for the training of Palestinian
student teachers, though not Jewish ones, to deter the former from pursuing
teaching careers. Jewish schools face severe staff shortages, but Israel's
educational segregation is so complete that Palestinian citizens cannot be
allowed to teach Jewish children.
Netanyahu also extolled his government for a promise to increase funding for
Israel's near-bankrupt Palestinian local authorities. He forgot to mention,
however, that he had conditioned the money on the same councils demolishing
thousands of homes in their jurisdiction. For decades Palestinians in Israel
have been routinely denied building permits.
Israel's Palestinian citizens were not fooled by Netanyahu's video. But as
their leaders noted, they were not the intended audience. The video was a
cynical PR exercise aimed firmly at the Europeans, who have been discomfited
by Israel's increasingly repressive climate and the government's regular
incitement against its Palestinian minority.
Netanyahu is worried about a backlash in the West, including growing support
for the boycott movement, European efforts to revive peace talks, and
potential moves at the United Nations and International Criminal Court.
Palestinians in Israel have known worse repression than they currently endure.
For Israel's first two decades they lived under military rule, locked into
their towns and villages and largely invisible unless they agreed to do and
say as they were told. Palestinian MPs could be elected to the parliament but
only if they were first approved by Zionist parties like Netanyahu's.
The Israeli right sounds ever more nostalgic for that era. Slowly the ethos of
the military government for Israel's Palestinians is returning – and the
perfume of Netanyahu's soothing words about ending ''discord and hate'' will
not cover the stench.
A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His
latest books are ''Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East'' (Pluto Press) and ''Disappearing Palestine:
Israel's Experiments in Human Despair'' (Zed Books). His website is