How Netanyahu Sleazed His Way into Getting Pity Points for Israel After the Hebdo Attacks
In the midst of an election that may turn out to be a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to pass legislation defining Israel as a “Jewish State,” Netanyahu urged France’s Jewish citizens to immigrate to Israel and “return to their historic homeland.”
After marching with 1.5 million people in Paris on Sunday, Netanyahu attended a service at a synagogue for the four Jewish victims of an attack on a kosher supermarket, where one of the Islamic militants who assisted in the assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo took several hostages before being killed by police.
"I'm telling you what I say to our Jewish brothers in all countries: You have every right to live in safety and in peace as citizens with equal rights anywhere you choose, including here in France,” Netanyau said at the memorial service. “But Jews today have been blessed with another right, a right that didn't exist for previous generations: The right to join their Jewish brothers in our historic homeland, the land of Israel."
Israeli media has also reported that Netanyahu ordered a special committee to discuss ways to encourage French and other European Jews to immigrate to Israel.
In November, Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a contentious bill defining Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people.” Although Israel’s Declaration of Independence already defines Israel as the homeland for the Jews, the proposed legislation seeks to constitutionalize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. Among other things, the law calls on the Knesset to look to Jewish law for inspiration and drops Arabic as an official language of the country.
Critics say the law has the potential to turn Israel into an ethnocracy and alienate the Arab minority.
The New York Times editorial board wrote a harsh critique of the legislation last fall, comparing the legislation to Jim Crow laws in the American South.
"… it is heartbreaking to see the Israeli cabinet approve a contentious bill that would officially define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, reserving ‘national rights’ only for Jews.
"This is not for us just a theoretical concern. The systematic denial of full rights to minorities — principally African-Americans and disproportionately in the American South — well into the 1960s caused great harm to our own country, is not fully resolved yet and is a remaining stain on American democracy."
The controversial bill eventually led to the collapse of the governing coalition after the Netanyahu fired two of his ministers who vocally opposed the legislation. Without a coalition, Israel will be heading into special elections that will take place in March, two years ahead of schedule.
Polls show Israel moving further to the right after a violent year that saw the collapse of the U.S.-led peace negotiations with Palestine, the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and then Israel’s assault on Gaza, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. Most recently, violent and deadly clashes occurred around Jerusalem due to an effort by right-wing Israeli settlers to expand Jewish access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s second holiest site, which also sits on the ruins of the Temple Mount, one of the most important religious sites in Judaism.
Recent polls show shrinking support for centrist and left-wing parties. The only political parties to gain any ground were Israel’s right-wing Jewish Home and Israel Beiteinu parties led by Ministers Naftali Bennet and Avigdor Lieberman.
In fact, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu hadn’t planned on traveling to Paris until Bennet and Lieberman announced they would join the march to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. During the demonstration, Netanyahu, who was initially positioned in the second row of world leaders attending the march, shimmied his way up to the front row to walk alongside heads of state like French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A photo tweeted by the prime minister’s office showing Netanyahu walking arm in arm with world leaders at the head of the march, seems to have cropped out Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was invited to the demonstration by the French government.
Despite growing support for Israel’s far-right, Netanyahu still seems poised to win the special election. A poll conducted by the newspaper Haaretz at the end of November found that 35 percent of Israelis thought Netanyahu was the best politician to be prime minister, with the rest of public support divided among the eight other candidates.
Netanyahu, who is the second longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, kicked off his election campaign last week. While already leading in the polls, he seems to have another advantage over his opponents—support from American donors. Buzzfeed reported last week that Netanyahu has already raised 1 million shekels for his party’s campaign effort, with more than 90 percent of those contributions coming from American donors.
An overwhelming majority of Netanyahu’s campaign money has consistently come from a handful of wealthy American families, who account for over half of Netanyahu’s campaign contributions in the last three elections.
One of those families, the Falics, who own the airport chain Duty Free Americas as well as several high-end fashion brands, are also supporters of Israel’s settlement movement. Their private foundation supports youth trips to illegal settlements in the West Bank through the Zionist Organization of America, helped build a settlement welcome center and funded archeological excavations in occupied Palestine.