BENJAMIN Netanyahu is under attack from both Israel’s President and Wonder Woman for insulting Arab citizens.
Netanyahu declared on Sunday that Israel “is not a state of all its citizens”. He said that it is actually “the nation state of just the Jewish People”.
Gal Gadot, the Israeli actress who played Wonder Woman, was outraged. “This isn’t a matter of right or left. Jew or Arab. Secular or religious,” she wrote on Instagram. “It’s a matter of dialogue, of dialogue for peace and equality and of our tolerance of one towards the other.”
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, who rarely speaks out on politics, took Netanyahu to task. Without referring to him by name, Rivlin hit out against “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel”.
Rivlin, who represented Likud in Knesset before becoming President, said that “political thinking is turning all reason on its head”, and expressed dismay about anti-Arab sentiments on the right. “I refuse to believe that there are political parties that have surrendered the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish, state,” he said.
Election campaigning has been dominated in recent days by Likud telling voters that they face a choice between returning it to government, or ending up with a left-wing government that will receive backing from Arab parties. “Bibi or Tibi,” Likud activists chanted, referring to the Arab politician Ahmad Tibi.
Critics have said that whatever the accuracy of the claim – and Likud’s main opponent, the Blue White party, has denied that it plans to rely on Arab parties – it is designed to stigmatise Arabs.
Television host Rotem Sela posted on social media asking: “When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal?”
Instead of reining in the “Bibi or Tibi” campaign, Likud upped the ante. Netanyahu addressed Sela, saying that she needed an “important correction”, namely that Israel is not a state of all its citizens. Then, with more public attention than ever on the topic, declared that voters are facing a choice between “a strong right-wing government headed by me or a left-wing government of [Blue White politicians] Yair Lapid and [Benny] Gantz with the support of the Arab parties”.
For Netanyahu, the “Bibi or Tibi” campaign is proving a winner. The Blue White party has been buoyant in the polls since it was created last month, sometimes coming in as high as 36 seats, six more than Likud. But in the latest survey, conducted by Haaretz, it has dropped to 31 seats and Likud is trailing by just three seats.
This has surprised pollsters, given that Israel’s attorney-general just announced that he wants to indict Netanyahu for corruption.
Other controversies, including a move by his ally Regev to end the two-year-old tradition of having Diaspora representatives light torches at Israel’s Independence Day ceremony, appear to be leaving no dint in Likud’s standing. Naftali Bennett, leader of the New Right party, slammed the decision as “ridiculous” and “an insult to millions of Jews around the world who look to Israel as their homeland,” but there was little reaction in Israel.
Blue White’s campaigning is focusing on attacking Likud for its cooperation with the far right, including the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) which includes Kahanists.
This week Bezalel Smotrich of the URWP spoke about changes he will make if he becomes education minister.
“With Netanyahu, Smotrich will become the minister of education,” said Blue White leader Gantz.
“Netanyahu will do everything it takes to hold on to his seat, while entrusting [our children’s education] in the hands of the most extreme extremists. We will not allow it.”