5 of the Most Appalling Acts of Incitement From Israel This Week: Lawmaker Vows to Destroy Muslim Holy Site

News & Politics

No previous records for racism may have been broken in Israel this week, but the last few days have seen top politicians laying the foundation for future discrimination. Just this week, Israel’s top cop dehumanized Palestinians as death-worshippers, the Education Minister sacked his top scientist for his efforts to combat racism, and ruling party officials courted theocratic Jewish groups, with one Member of Knesset even vowing to destroy the third holiest site in Islam.

1. Ruling Likud party lawmakers court aspiring theocrats.

A long list of Israeli government officials have already gone on record calling for increased Jewish presence on the Noble Sanctuary, now the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock for over a millennium, and once the site of a Jewish temple 2,000 years ago. This week, ruling Likud Party lawmaker Oren Hazan appeared to surpass all of his colleagues’ previous provocative statements, saying that if he were to become premier, he would build a Jewish temple on the site.

“If the day comes and I have the opportunity to lead the country, not to mention becoming the prime minister, I will build the Temple on the Temple Mount,” Hazan told a forum of students committed to securing Jewish prayer rights at the contentious site. “Did you mean this literally?” asked the panel moderator. “Undoubtedly,” Hazan replied.

When my colleague Dan Cohen and I asked Hazan how he would demolish the structures considered to be Muslim holy sites third in importance only to Saudi Arabia’s Mecca and Medina, in order to make room for his proposed temple, he responded: “It would not be responsible at this point in time to tell you how we would do it, but I will say it clear and loud: When I have the opportunity to do it, I will.”

There is no great risk of Oren Hazan becoming the prime minister of Israel anytime soon; in less than two years as a Member of Knesset, the rookie legislator has embarrassed himself in a series of scandals. But Hazan’s embrace of the Temple Mount lobby is a worrying sign of where the rest of the Israeli government could very well be heading, especially if the hundreds of Gaza mosques damaged or destroyed by Israel in recent years are any indication.

Temple Mount movement activists are not the only religious reactionaries who have received love of late from the Likud, ostensibly a secular-nationalist political party. Earlier in the week, Gilad Erdan, the Likud Minister of Public Security; Yisrael Katz, Minister of Transportation; and Miri Regev, Minister of Culture, feted the popular preacher Rabbi Michael Leitman and heaped praise upon his organization Kabbalah La’am, a spiritual sect that aspires to turn Israel into a tyrannical theocracy, according to top religious affairs commentator Tomer Persico.

2. Top Israeli officials say Palestinians are death-worshippers.

Last Monday, Israel’s Chief of Police joined top state top officials in dehumanizing Palestinians, telling a public gathering in the southern city of Eilat that life is sacred to Israeli people, and in contrast, death is sacred to Palestinian people.

In a speech to Yad LeBanim, the national organization for the families of fallen Israeli soldiers, Roni Alsheich said:

“It seems that while we have chosen to sanctify life, to give it importance, to elevate the contribution the victims left to Israeli society, the legacy they left you for eternity, our enemies chose to sanctify death. Their hidden message: There is no importance whatsoever to life and at the push of a button or drawing of a knife, it is possible to move on to a better world. That is, in fact, in my view, the antithesis of the values of Israeli society.”

The very next day, Alsheich seemingly had no problem switching gears, announcing that he intended to launch “a massive recruitment effort of officers from the Muslim sector,” the very group he had earlier disparaged as death-worshippers.

It would seem Alsheich’s unfavorable appraisal of Palestinian people may be impeding his ability to police crimes against this population. Ha’aretz reported this week that the alleged ringleader of a group of Israeli Jews who torched to death a Palestinian father, mother and 1-year-old baby last summer had already been a “high-priority target” of the police for a year at the time of the murders. Though Amiram Ben-Uliel was supposedly a top police suspect, he is said to have successfully carried out the Duma murders because Israeli police did not delegate sufficient “resources and manpower” to the threat he posed.

Perhaps hoping to score some political points with an increasingly racist Israeli electorate, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon echoed Alsheich’s racist remarks with a similar slur on Tuesday, made to the same group of families of fallen Israeli soldiers:

"Mourning in a society that seeks life, a society that educates its sons to live, to be human, to act like humans, to strive for peace, that's our society. Facing us is a society that seeks death, like we see around us, their joy when the son becomes a martyr, a society that respects nothing.”

Alsheich and Ya’alon’s comments came as a response to a controversy that had erupted weeks earlier. When Israel’s long-term retention of the dead bodies of Palestinians who had attacked Israelis led veteran radio broadcaster Razi Barkai to note that Palestinian parents are also pained by the inability to bury their loved ones, he immediately came under fire. Barkai's on-air time was cut in half and the rest of his slot was transferred to a right-wing radio pundit.

3. Minister ends anti-racism program, fires director.

Natali Bennett, chair of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home Party, is using his position as Education Minister to refashion school curricula according to his partisan political line. In recent months, he has banned soldiers who blow the whistle on army abuse of Palestinians from speaking to schools; cut a novel that depicts a romantic relationship between an Israeli women and Palestinian man from the recommended reading list; and empowered a committee to disqualify for funded school excursions any cultural productions that challenge Zionist ideas.

Bennett’s efforts to radically alter the face of the Israeli educational system have prompted protests by local academics. After Bennett sacked the deputy chair of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, six members of the council resigned to register their dissent—unprecedented in the country’s history. Recently, 1500 Israeli academics signed a petition expressing their lack of confidence in Bennett and his actions at the helm of the ministry.

But perhaps Bennett’s most sinister stroke fell this week, when it was revealed that one of the reasons he fired the Education Ministry’s chief scientist, Ami Tolansky, about a month ago was that Volansky had initiated a new program designed to measure the level of racism among Israeli students, in order to better combat it. Volansky, a 32-year veteran of the ministry, expressed his frustration over Bennett’s cancelation of the program, which he says he conceived after a group of Israeli Jews kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager in 2014. “There’s a danger of science being subjugated to the needs of the government,” Volansky told Ha’aretz, “Things like this happened only in the Middle Ages or in totalitarian states.”

4. Israel cancels impending immigration of black Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced this week that the planned immigration of approximately 9,000 Ethiopians, blood relatives of Israeli Jews, would not take place as planned because the government has not allocated funds for the project. Revital Sweid, a legislator from the centrist Zionist Union party criticized the government’s failure and labeled it racist:

“Freezing the plan and saying it’s for budgetary reasons worsens the discrimination and smacks of racism. How can we tell soldiers from Ethiopia that they’re good enough to sacrifice their lives but not good enough to reunite with their relatives?”

Israel began to facilitate the immigration of Jews from Ethiopia over three decades ago, starting in 1984, but historically, Israeli officials have only allowed confirmed Jews to come to the country; their Ethiopian extended family members who did not practice the Jewish religion were not allowed to join them in Israel. During the same time period, the state facilitated the immigration of over a million Jews from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. In their case, however, Israel permitted their non-Jewish family members to join them and receive Israeli citizenship.

Between 1948 and '84, Israel resisted all attempts by Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel. In 1972, the Israeli government was willing to facilitate the immigration of Ethiopian donkeys, but not Ethiopian Jews. It would take more than a decade and sustained pressure from American activists for the Israeli government to relent to permit the immigration of black Jews. Once in Israel, Jews from Ethiopia continue to be the targets of state-sponsored discrimination. Last week Israel Army Radio reported that Ethiopian-Israeli couples who wish to wed are being denied married licenses by government officials in Petach Tikvah, the fifth largest city in Israel. A week after the scandal broke, federal officials had still not intervened to remedy the racism.

5. Homophobia increasing and Israel government stalls progress.

This past week presented an opportunity for the Israeli parliament to show solidarity with the country’s gays and lesbians when the Knesset proclaimed its first-ever LGBT Rights Day in the plenum on Tuesday. A report issued the previous day demonstrated the desperate need for progress on legislation that would give gay people the same privileges and protections as straight Israelis.

The National LGBT Task Force report found that homophobic hate attacks in Israel had increased by 80% in the last year. The most horrific of these was a stabbing spree at the Jerusalem Pride Parade, in which 16-year-old Israeli Shira Banki was murdered.

Instead of marking LGBT Rights Day by passing laws designed to protect this population, the government shot down all six bills that were tabled in tribute to it, including a bill that would forbid so-called psychological treatments that try to turn queer youth straight. Most shamefully, the ruling Likud Party lawmakers who ostensibly claim to be allies of the gay community, openly gay Amir Ohana and Gay Pride caucus co-chair Sharren Haskel, torpedoed the bills, with Ohana purposefully skipping the vote and Haskel voting down all the legislation.

Israel Incitement Watch #5 -- 21 February 2015 - 27 February 2016

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