January 18, 2007
Bibi Netanyahu ranks high ... as racist demagogue
But he won't be, because anti-Arab racism in Israel is either supported or strategically ignored by the mainstream of the Jewish world and pretty much taken for granted by the non-Jewish world.
What Netanyahu said last week was not new for him. He was reported to have made the same appeal to the same sort of audience -- Charedi political leaders -- a couple of years ago as finance minister. Then, as now, he was apologizing for the way his child welfare cuts had hurt large Charedi families, while at the same time asking the Charedim to look at the bright sides of that policy.
"Two positive things happened," he told a conference of Charedi government officials in Nir Etzion last week. "Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate."
The once and possibly future prime minister of Israel says publicly that he's sorry his welfare cuts made life harder for Jewish families who are "blessed," as he put it, with many children, but isn't it "positive" that these cuts resulted in fewer Arab children being born?
Then Netanyahu went on to suggest a national remedy for the victims of his economic policies -- but for Jewish victims only, not Arab victims.
"I don't think that the Jewish Agency should refrain from helping part of the Jewish public in the state," he said, "and it is possible that additional nongovernmental bodies could have done so."
Imagine if any non-Jewish government official in the world cited the lowering of the Jewish birthrate in his country as an accomplishment, then recommended that his country's founding institution raise money to help poor non-Jewish families but not poor Jewish families.
How would the Jewish world, starting with Israel, characterize such an individual? What sort of pressure would the Jewish world apply to get him or her fired, blackballed and, if possible, indicted?
Yet everyone knows the speech in Nir Etzion will not hurt Netanyahu at all -- even though, again, this is not the first time he's said this, and even though the statements are perfectly in line with his standing as Israel's No. 1 fear-monger on the Israeli-Arab "demographic threat."
(On second thought, Netanyahu is probably only No. 2 -- Avigdor Lieberman, his former right-hand man and alter ego, is No. 1. When it comes to the subject of Israeli Arabs, it's hard to tell where Netanyahu ends and Lieberman begins.)
The worst that will happen to Netanyahu from this is that maybe another liberal commentator or two will denounce him, and there will be a press release from some civil rights organization. Maybe not even that. If, on the other hand, we're really, really lucky, the attorney general might have a word to say.
(FYI, even if there was a chance of it happening, I wouldn't want to see Netanyahu indicted. If every Israeli who made racist remarks in public had to stand trial, the courts would collapse under the load.)
The only political parties that might censure Netanyahu are the left-wing parties, and nobody cares about them. In fact, a bad word from Meretz can only help the Likud leader in the polls.
The Anti-Defamation League won't say anything, and neither will the other Diaspora Jewish organizations. Bibi is just too big, too popular, too important, too much a symbol of Israel for the Diaspora Jewish establishment to say a word against him, let alone accuse him of being a shameless bigot.
"Two positive things happened: Members of the Charedi public seriously joined the workforce. And on the national level, the unexpected result was the demographic effect on the non-Jewish public, where there was a dramatic drop in the birthrate."
That's the Israeli people's overwhelming choice for prime minister talking. I hope The New York Times, CNN and every other major news medium in the world picks up this story and doesn't let it go until Israel and Diaspora Jewry are shamed into dumping this guy once and for all.
On second thought, exposure as an anti-Arab racist by the international media could cause Netanyahu some problems overseas, but at home, it would only increase his appeal.
Larry Derfner is the Tel Aviv correspondent for The Jewish Journal.