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Education Ministry still blaming Arab citizens for 'arson intifada'

By now it is clear to all that the fires that erupted in Israel late last year were not the result of nationalistic arson. So why does the Education Ministry claim otherwise?

By John Brown*

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the scene of a fire, Beit Meir, November 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO CC 2.0)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting the scene of a fire, Beit Meir, November 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO CC 2.0)

This past November, Israel’s Education Ministry published a booklet on the fires that erupted in Israel late last year. The booklet, issue 143 of the Al Seder Hayom (Hebrew for “The Daily Agenda”) magazine, claimed that the fires “began as a result of negligence, and spread to many areas as a result of nationalistically-motivated arson […] the deliberate arsons once again raise issues surrounding the maintaining the delicate relations between Jews and Arabs in the country.” The argument that the arson was nationalistically-motivated, however, are not backed up by facts.

Al Seder Hayom deals with issues that are making headlines in Israeli society, as well as topics that the Education Ministry is interested in emphasizing. On paper, the booklets provide a factual basis for discussions between teachers and students in the classroom. The content of this specific issue was first published in by Haaretz‘s Or Kashti in his article on how the Education Ministry is teaching the case of Elor Azaria.

Last week, Israeli police released the last person suspected of arson, after it turned out he had set fire to a pile of trash. The police arrested 60 people suspected of arson, yet each and every one of them were cleared of any suspicion. In November, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan stated that: “The police have detained 23 people suspected of arson, most of them are connected in to arson in one way or another.” Erdan added that the suspects should have their homes demolished, yet in reality was deceiving the public. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said the arsonists should have their citizenship revoked. Netanyahu added that every act of arson or incitement to arson was an act of terror.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands alongside Police Chief Roni Alsheikh (right) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (left) in Zichron Ya'akov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands alongside Police Chief Roni Alsheikh (right) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (left) in Zichron Ya’akov, northern Israel, November 23, 2016. (Emil Salman/Flash90)

Proof that the suspects were involved in nationalistically-motivated was nowhere to be found. But what about the claims of arson in general? The Ma’ariv daily published what it claimed was a report by the Israel Fire and Rescue Services, according to which the vast majority of the fires were the result of arson. In a series of posts published on his Facebook page, Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson revealed that the report was based on a presentation whose facts were not published at the behest of Erdan. The facts that were approved and published by Erdan are absurd. In any case, there is still no proof that the fires were nationalistically-motivated, with many of them erupting in areas populated by Arabs.

Who is telling lies?

What proof does the Education Ministry have that the fires were actually deliberate, nationalistic arsons by Arabs? Why is it lying to students? After asking for comment, the ministry claimed that the booklets were based on police statements. But this is untrue; in fact, at the end of November the police reported that it could not determine that any of the fires were nationalistically motivated. After we debunked this claim, the ministry said that it based its information on reports in the media, and directed us to Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s office. He has yet to respond to our questions.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, welcomes students on their first day of school, Raanana, September 1, 2015. (Sasson Tiram/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, welcomes students on their first day of school, Raanana, September 1, 2015. (Sasson Tiram/Flash90)

Let’s not forget what Bennett said on November 23, 2016, was the first one to incite: “Only those to whom the land belongs are unable to burn it,” hinting that Arab citizens were responsible for the fires. In fact, it is likely that the Education Ministry simply based its information on the incitement and racism that Bennett spewed in the media, turning it them into fact.

In his messianic struggle to prevent Israeli anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence from speaking to high school students, Bennett repeats the claim that the organization is deceitful. This, of course, is only an excuse to cover up the real reason Bennett is so hostile to the group: that Breaking the Silence views the oppression of millions of Palestinians as immoral goes against Bennett’s core beliefs.

So perhaps it should be Bennett, who spreads lies to Israeli students, who should be be barred from speaking to them?

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. This story first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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    1. carmen

      “Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said the arsonists should have their citizenship revoked. Netanyahu added that every act of arson or incitement to arson was an act of terror.”

      What would be the proper legal response to the incitement vis-a-vis deri, netanyahoo and bennett?
      What about compensation to those palestinians arrested under pretext of arson and were released because the allegation was false?
      The correct thing to do would be to publicly exhonorate these individuals with formal apologies from the inciters in charge.

      Reply to Comment
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