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A premier failure: Where is Israel's leadership?

With Netanyahu’s hints at revenge, his imperviousness toward the rage surrounding the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir and his complete absence in the Israeli media, the prime minister is a party to the growing Jewish-Arab animosity.

Instances of violence between Jews and Arabs are piling up: the video from the bus in Tel Aviv, reports of ‘price tag’ attacks, police violence, continued protests in Shuafat, protests in Wadi Ara and the Triangle, and there, overnight, a few Jewish drivers were reportedly attacked.

In contrast to the Palestinians, the Jewish public hasn’t been exposed to the horrifying details of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s murder because of a court gag order. As usual, consumers of Hebrew-language news media are spared the context and the other side simply becomes rioters.

It’s not a deterioration on the scale of the events of October 2000 but things aren’t headed in a good direction; the weight attention news and social media are giving a few incidents contributes to a sense that things are getting out of control, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anybody sitting in front of Facebook all day will likely be convinced that marauding rioters are on ever corner and that people are being lynched on an hourly basis.

Read +972’s full coverage of the kidnappings

The most remarkable phenomenon, however, is the complete absence of any leadership on the Israeli side — especially the prime minister and the police brass. As Raviv Druker pointed out, if the Israel Police had carried out its investigation into the murder of Abu Khdeir as transparently and publicly as possible, the Jewish public would understand why the level of rage among Palestinians at the moment is the same that the Jews are feeling, and the Palestinians would at least be a feeling that the case was getting some attention. But instead of all that, the police helped spread rumors blaming the victim. It couldn’t have been any worse.

The prime minister has lots of tools at his disposal — from giving a speech to the nation to a paying a condolence visit to the Abu Khdeir family — that could have been used irrespective of the killers’ identity. Netanyahu has not even condemned the Jewish violence and calls for revenge; instead he mumbled something about Israel being “a nation of laws.” It feels like a bad joke, on both sides. Netanyahu hasn’t answered a single question from an Israeli reporter since the kidnapping. The Israeli public just doesn’t interest him.

Netanyahu is known as restrained prime minister, and it is possible that somebody else in his chair would have already sent tanks into Gaza. When it comes to relations between Jews and Arabs, however, he is an expert at administering poison. His use of a Chaim Bialik quote, “vengeance for the blood of small child,” after the discovery of the teens’ bodies and his subsequent silence surrounding the current deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations is just one example.

Maybe the hit he’s taking in the polls will change something.

Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.

Related:
Why this isn’t a ‘new’ intifada
Israeli police are exacerbating the violence with gag orders
Analysis: The end of the ‘cheap occupation’ era

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    1. Kolumn9

      Be careful what you wish for. The poll you linked to shows that Netanyahu is losing voters to Bennett. If Liberman runs independently with Kahlon it is no longer certain that Likud will be the biggest party. He could wind up behind Bennett or behind the Liberman/Kahlon party (which would steal Yesh Atid/Labor votes as well) or even, gasp, behind Labor.

      When the Israeli Jewish public is as infuriated as it is now the most politically expedient direction for ‘leadership’ is to push forward initiatives aimed at satisfying that anger. For example, he could push forward legislation to prevent terror-supporting members of parliament like Haneen Zoabi from standing for reelection. He could push forward legislation banning the northern branch of the Islamic movement by insisting that it is behind the Arab riots. He could push forward plans for more settlement units as a Zionist response to the murder of Jewish children. He could expel the leadership of the West Bank Hamas to Gaza. He could push for much heavier punishment for the crime of throwing rocks at police or at cars. He could shut down all access to the Arab towns where riots have broken out. He could send the IDF en masse into the Arab towns. He could push for more violent police measures against rioters. He could push for more construction in Jerusalem or for redrawing the borders to exclude the troublesome neighborhoods on the other side of the wall. He could push for the annexation of some of the settlement blocs. He could promote laws against the foreign funding of left-wing NGOs that promote anti-Israeli narratives. And last, but not least, he could start hitting Hamas in Gaza, likely starting with taking out some Hamas leaders, proceeding to a large scale operation after the longer-range rockets start flying.

      All of these things would allow him to claim that he is displaying leadership while fending off challenges from Bennett and Liberman. So, again, be careful what you wish for.

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        “When the Israeli Jewish public is as infuriated as it is now the most politically expedient direction for ‘leadership’ is to push forward initiatives aimed at satisfying that anger.”

        Not really. Politicians have to have a perspective that extends more than one week. Anger is like flame: feeding fuel does not “satisfy it”. Kolumb9 listed a lot of stuff that the government “could do”. But if the government acts in “righteous anger”, anger is the thing to do and a large sector of the public wants to act on anger personally, not just by watching what police and IDF is doing. Hence pogroms, even murders, people on the receiving ends respond with the same, and the events spiral out.

        In the meantime, it is not just Noam who is aghast, but the foreign governments too, and even diaspora. So a month later you may have serious problems. At the very least, Likud can be demolished by loosing votes to the left and to the right. The central ruling party is never rewarded in those situations.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          This is certainly a good thing but you have no idea how anger works on a national level. I think it is safe to say that you are not an Israeli, a Palestinian or an American.

          Bibi has plenty of tools at his disposal to assuage that anger without escalating the situation. The reason he doesn’t yet is because he doesn’t believe an election is imminent and he doesn’t have to worry about polls.

          The central ruling party loses whenever it takes no action in response to national mood and is seen as feckless. If the rioting and rockets continue for another weeks or so, or if Israeli Jews are killed, it is likely that Bibi will be forced into displaying “leadership”.

          As for the foreign governments, they have no real role they can play here other than condemning violence and calling for restraint. That is what happens when violence breaks out here. It becomes impossible to sustain a diplomatic initiative because it only risks further inflaming passions. In the meantime those that argued that Kerry’s initiative would do only harm have been proven prescient.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Gail Nestel

      You act as if F-16 bombs are like candy next to a tank…I think you’ve lost perspective there! And its not about the polls or a condolence call…I certainly would not receive a condolence call from a Prime Minister who is a primary source of these problems…and they are systemic 1. segregated societies and segregated schools don’t by definition get along. Israel made its bed and now it is lying in it. If the policies change so will the society…its that simple. And don’t wait around for Hamas…Israel has the power to influence hearts and minds toward peace…as John Lennon said ‘Peace ‘if you want it’.

      Reply to Comment
    3. rab

      This article has been proven wrong not only by the police finding the alleged Israeli murderers very rapidly, but also by Netanyahu’s speech today.

      Perhaps the people who always find fault with Israel, its leaders and its institutions could actually try to report objectively every once in a while?

      Reply to Comment