Imagine if a politician in another country had bragged about lowering a minority group’s birthrate – like Netanyahu and his new ambassador to the U.S. did.
Ron Dermer, who was named by Netanyahu yesterday to be Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, is known as an even more right-wing Republican version of his boss. Haaretz‘s Barak Ravid wrote:
Dermer’s positions on policy are far more extreme than Netanyahu’s. European and American officials have expressed shock by his positions on the settlement issue, on peace talks with the Palestinians, and on the principle of an independent Palestinian state.
This episode took place at the beginning of January 2007, when Netanyahu was out of power, preparing his run for the prime ministership again, and wanting to mend fences with the supremely important ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) voting bloc. They had supported Netanyahu en masse in his successful 1996 race, but he had alienated them in the early 2000s as finance minister in the Sharon government, when he slashed government child subsidies, which badly hurt large, poor families, who are especially prevalent among two population groups: the Haredim and the Israeli Arabs. So Netanyahu went to talk to a gathering of Haredi municipal officials, putting a positive spin on the cuts he’d imposed. His speech was written up in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth. From the latter:
In his speech, Netanyahu referred to the cuts in child pensions, saying that since they were implemented “two positive things happened: members of the Haredi 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 birth rate.”
He didn’t just say this once, either; I’d read that he made the same boast to a group of ultra-Orthodox Knesset members.
Imagine if a politician in just about any other country made such a statement about a minority group. But Israel is, well, special, so Netanyahu’s remarks, reported in Yedioth and Haaretz, made no waves whatsoever. So I decided to write an op-ed about the speech in The Jerusalem Post, and titled it “A bigot called Bibi,” in which I said he’d gone beyond the pale and put himself in the category of racist demagogues like Jean Marie Le Pen and Jorg Haider.
Ron Dermer, at the time the Minister of Economic Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, defended the statement in a sarcastic reply in the Post titled “The nerve of Bibi”:
Netanyahu was caught red-handed. Who would have thought that an Israeli leader circa 2007 could think, let alone say, something so shocking? And we thought the quaint notion that leaders of the Jewish state wanted more Jews than non-Jews in it was passe.
But while [Derfner] should be commended for bringing this story to our attention, he is mistaken in calling Bibi a bigot. He is only a Zionist, and apparently even a proud one.