J Street is alarmed by the escalating campaign of incitement against Arab citizens of Israel that is now being carried out by Prime Minister Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli politicians. The disgraceful, racist rhetoric of Netanyahu and his allies is endangering Arab-Israelis and fundamentally undermining Israel’s commitment to democracy.
As part of the ongoing effort to rally their right-wing base and win Israel’s upcoming election, Netanyahu and the Likud are stigmatizing Arab-Israeli participation in Israeli politics as fundamentally dangerous and illegitimate. They charge that their political opponents will enter into a governing coalition with or advance the interests of Arab-Israelis, as if Arab citizens have no right to influence the policies of an Israeli government.
On Sunday, responding to a social media post by an Israeli actress who defended the rights and humanity of Arab-Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu wrote that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People — and them alone.” This kind of rhetoric makes explicit what has become increasingly clear — that while the Israeli right continues to tout Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” it envisions the country as an ethnostate in which Arab-Israelis are officially treated as second-class citizens. Indeed, Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin felt compelled to publicly respond to Netanyahu and clarify that Israeli Arabs were not “second-class voters” and that “there are no first-class citizens” in the country.
The prime minister’s treatment of Arab-Israelis, along with his policies of creeping annexation in the West Bank and his partnership with the extreme Kahanist party referred to as “Israel’s KKK,” fundamentally endanger Israel’s future as a democracy — and contradict the shared values at the heart of the US-Israel relationship.
With Netanyahu set to speak at the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC later this month, we urge US elected officials and pro-Israel leaders to denounce his destructive conduct and ideology. We stand with all those Israelis, regardless of religion or ethnicity, who continue to battle in defense of their country’s democratic institutions, rights and values.