Shaming the Inciters

14 January 2016

As you well know, there has been a rising tide of incitement and intolerance threatening those who speak out against the erosion of Israeli democracy.

Just a month ago, immediately following President Reuven Rivlin’s speech at the HaaretzQ with NIF conference in New York, he was skewered on a publicly-funded religious television network, prompting an outpouring of hate-filled comments from Israeli pundits and politicians.

A few days later — in the context of a debate over the effort to legislate new requirements for progressive Israeli NGOs — an extremist guerrilla group released a viral video accusing four human rights activists of treason.

Then two weeks ago we saw the Prime Minister himself place a podium at the site of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv to deliver a speech questioning the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens, calling them “a state within a state.”

These are just three incidents. There are more. All are part of an ongoing (and cynical) effort by those in power to use their bully pulpit and their grassroots proxies to achieve two goals: a narrowing of the margins of acceptable debate in Israel and distracting the public from the failures of the current government by pitting Israelis against each other.

We’re deeply worried about what’s going on. The flames of hatred have been fanned so strongly that to many in Israel, the current environment resembles the days leading up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

This week, NIF is rolling out a campaign that includes powerful messages and images intended to raise an alarm. We’re doing it now, before things get worse, before the next political assassination, before more of the common ground that unites Israelis is eroded. And we’re doing it based on the advice and discussions we had with many Israeli media experts and political figures, including members of the Rabin family.

Israelis are increasingly connecting the dots between the ugliness they are now seeing and the narrow agenda – that of the most radical right – that the divisiveness serves. And the Israeli public knows that is doesn’t have to be this way, that hatred is not patriotism, that dissent is not treason, and that fear mongering is not leadership.

NIF stands for a better Israel, for democracy and for equality. We know that Israel’s political climate need not be marked by divisiveness. A different form of leadership can bring together Israel’s rich tapestry — secular and religious, Arab and Jewish, progressive and conservative, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi — into a shared society that truly thrives. We are giving voice to those Israelis demanding more of their leaders to help make Israel a better place.