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Israel's culture minister likens wildfires to anti-Jewish pogroms

Miri Regev says current wildfires tearing through are simply a continuation of the massacres committed against Jews in the 20th century.

Culture Minister Miri Regev reacts at the Knesset assembly hall during a question period with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 18, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Culture Minister Miri Regev reacts at the Knesset assembly hall during a question period with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 18, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Miri Regev is the latest leader to join the chorus of Israeli government ministers inciting against the country’s Palestinian citizens over the past week, fueling allegations that Palestinians have been behind the hundreds of wildfires tearing through the country.

Never one to be outdone by her friends on the right, Minister of Culture and Sport Regev published a Facebook status on Sunday morning comparing the fires, which continue to rage across both Israel and the West Bank, to massacres and pogroms against Jews in the 20th century. Labeling the fires “Praot Tash’az” (the Hebrew equivalent of saying “The 2016 Riots,” the word “tash’az” denotes 5777, the current Hebrew year), Regev admonished the “political correctness” of those who believe waiting for the full results of police investigations is, well, the right thing to do. My translation:

The Israeli government will convene in Haifa City Hall in the next few hours to discuss the arsons of the past few days. Political correctness is trying to force us to bury our heads in the sand, while everything around us burns.

The first step is to call the child by its name — this bad child’s name is “Praot Tash’az” and it is an incarnation of the arsons in Fez, Kishinev, Hebron, Hartuv, and Be’er Tuvia.

This time, praise be to God, the Jewish people have a state and a government, and they are not planning on burying their heads in the sand. I will make sure that decisions are made that will lead to stopping the enemy within and beyond.

As Local Call’s Yael Marom noted earlier this week, Israeli politicians and leading media outlets alike jumped at the opportunity to pin the fires on Arabs. Netanyahu made sure to frame the alleged arson as terrorism, and the accused arsonists as terrorists. “Every fire caused by arson, or by incitement to arson, is terrorism,” Netanyahu said. “Anyone who tries to burn parts of the State of Israel will be punished severely.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett continued the trend, stating: “Only he who the country doesn’t belong to him is capable of burning it.” Several days later, standing with the residents of the West Bank settlement Halamish — where 15 homes were burned down, allegedly as a result of arson — Bennett called the arsonists “fire terrorists” whose goal is to “murder Jews.”

On Sunday morning Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that Israeli security forces, whom are subordinate to him, should demolish homes belonging to arsonists. Meanwhile Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that at least 17 of the 110 wildfires were the result of arson, suggesting that “the best response is to expand settlements.” The defense minister is responsible for approving settlement construction.

At present Israel police have arrested a total of 37 people suspected of arson, 18 of whom are Palestinian citizens. Two Palestinians, from the northern village of Deir Hanna and the city of Umm al-Fahm, respectively, have confessed to starting fires. The police have also arrested a total of eight people, five Arabs and three Jews, of suspected incitement.

The story of the arsons has become a bit murky, since Israeli police are providing information on the arrestees piecemeal at best. According to a report in Haaretz, some of the Arab suspects under arrest are alleged to have committed arson in their own towns and cities, i.e. not targeting Jews, and none of them took part in any attacks that led to major fires, such as those in Haifa, Nataf, or Zichron Ya’akov.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) visits the West Bank settlement Halamish, where a wildfire broke out over the weekend, allegedly due to arson, November 27, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) visits the West Bank settlement Halamish, where a wildfire broke out over the weekend, allegedly due to arson, November 27, 2016. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense)

The Haaretz report added that among those in custody are a resident of Nazareth suspected of setting fire to a neighborhood in his home city, and two others who allegedly set fire to trees between Sajur and Beit Jan, both of which are Druze villages in the Galilee.

Meanwhile police also arrested Anas Abudaabes, a journalist from the Bedouin township of Rahat after he wrote a satirical Facebook post criticizing fellow Arabs who have taken to social media to call for arson attacks against Israel. Despite public criticism of the arrest and even acknowledging that the post in question was satirical, a judge kept him in jail over the weekend. Abudaabes was released on Saturday evening, although he could still face charges.

As my colleague Haggai Matar has pointed out, hundreds of wildfires have erupted across the Middle East over the past week due to strong winds and dry weather. The Palestinian Authority has counted over 200 fires in the West Bank alone. The fact that the fires have hit Israel especially hard, and even if some of them are indeed arson, does not grant ministers carte blanche to incite against 20 percent of the population — and certainly not to abuse Jewish history in the process.

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    1. Carmen

      What a horrible, horrible woman. There seems to be no depth low enough for her to stoop too. Sick.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        I agree with Carmen’s self-description.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Aww shucks Lewis 🙂

          Reply to Comment
    2. Grandpa Frost

      Miri Regev is spot on! So is Naftali Bennett! As he pointed out, clearly, the people who are burning the land of Israel as well as their innumerable supporters on the social media have absolutely no connection to it. I am so proud of both of them! Enough political correctness, it’s time to tell the truth!

      Reply to Comment
    3. R5

      The lefties invested so, so much press in the Nabi Saleh protestors – they were supposed to be the new MLKs, Ghandis and Mandelas of the 21st century. And it will probably turn out that the settlement they’ve been protesting this whole time, Halamish, was deliberately burned by Palestinians. +972, Mondoweiss, EI will be skeptical of course, even after the perpetrators are convicted, but it has gotta sting when your utopian delusions come crashing down after you got film awards and all sorts of western bleeding heart cash out of it. Maybe if the lefties stopped inciting against Zionism per se, and the world came around to the idea that Israel deserves secure borders, a deal could be struck that would leave Halamish empty of settlers.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      ​Israel, you have a whole lotta West Bank settler olive grove arsonists to arrest now as terrorists. Get to it. You have a huge backlog of cases. Terror is terror, as you always say. Remember, as our esteemed Education Minister says, ​“The only ones capable of setting the land on fire are people to whom it does not belong.” So the West Bank does not belong to the settlers. It’s a new development in Israeli consciousness. Get cracking now and root out those settler-terror-arsonists. On the double. Hail Regev!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      “it will probably turn out that…+972, Mondoweiss, EI will be skeptical of course…utopian delusions…bleeding heart…lefties…inciting…Israel deserves secure borders…”

      Wow you packed more innuendo, insinuation and cynical propaganda terms into this than usual. The Right is overjoyed at the prospect of arson. You can feel the joy. Arson! Oh god ye have heard our prayers! But represses the memory of their own arsonists. What comes through is how much peace-seeking Palestinians (+972) make the right wingers gnash their teeth. Oh, do they love terror! It will take an archaeologist of cynicism and posturing to unearth the many layers of it laid down like geological strata in this conflict over the decades.

      Reply to Comment
      • R5

        Except I’m a pragmatist, not a rightist. I don’t think Halamish should exist. Did you read my comment? Try not making straw man arguments once in a while. I can see that you respond to every +972 piece about 5 times on average so I think you can squeeze in a bit of thinking between the sloganeering every once in a while.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          I did not perceive your pragmatism. Perhaps it was that you never said that you think Halamish should not exist. You might be more explicit–seriously it would help dialogue. What other settlements do you want to say should not exist? “A deal could be struck that would leave Halamish empty of settlers.” This is what you mean by pragmatism. OK but I have grown wary of what Israelis mean by pragmatism and by deals that could be struck. It usually means that the deal that could be struck runs something like this: “I’ll trade you Neveh Tzuf for Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim, Efrat, Beitar Illit, all of Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and many other things.” Followed by “we offered them everything!”

          “not a rightist.” These things are not categorical they are dimensional. If you are not a rightist then I am not a leftist. We are both pragmatists coming at this from different perspectives.

          “Sloganeering.” Yeah? Point me to a slogan and I’ll address it. I’d call it “debunking.” It comes easy. I’d debunk less if there were less bunk to debunk. On the same subject, it strikes me that this is one slogan after another strung together: “The lefties invested so… it will probably turn out that…+972, Mondoweiss, EI will be skeptical of course… utopian delusions…bleeding heart… lefties… inciting… Israel deserves secure borders….”

          Reply to Comment
          • R5

            I’m not a military expert, but I understand a workable deal (from a security POV) means Jerusalem, Gush Eztion and Shomron Bloc to Israel, with Palestinians getting Beisan valley and land around Gaza. West Bank needs to be thinner to protect Gush Dan basically, and Israel can afford to give up fertile land around its periphery. Problem is that 99.9% of ppl who think they know best have absolutely no interest in understanding relationship between security and geography.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Any number of Israeli experts have dismissed the territorial depth rationale. In an age when you needed to send early warning signals from mountaintop to mountain top by torchlight it made sense. It is not believable now. It is instructive to observe just exactly when that vaunted Israeli military ingenuity and prowess suddenly abandons them and they plead helplessness. And besides that your premise is that you don’t need to evolve a security arrangement and interdependence that works. Yet the PA has faithfully and reliably done that for you year after year but it’s like that thank you note Bibi sent out to all the nations helping put out the fires–except to the Palestinians. But in regards to their security help they don’t even get a contemptuous footnote at the bottom of the page. They get full frontal contempt and scorn from Lieberman and Co. It’s not about security. It never was.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Carmen

      Oh Grandpa, I think you enjoy sitting back and stirring the pot. That’s a luxury you apparently can afford in your ‘golden years’. “Enough political correctness, it’s time to tell the truth!” Hmmm, you really want the truth ‘grandpa’? 🙂


      Reply to Comment
    7. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      Miri Regev is a great lady. What she did to democratize the Israeli theater is a good job. We have all to be grateful to her.

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        You and grandpa frost should get together for a rollicking game of mah jong. 🙂

        Reply to Comment