Israeli leaders are shooting themselves in their PR foot. There is something wrong with the tone and language of political debate in Israel. It would seem from the events of recent days –– in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, into the governing coalition, replacing Moshe Ya’alon as defense minister –– that Israeli political leaders have no idea how to conduct appropriate political discourse. Instead, in their seething anger at their colleagues or opponents, they have been engaging in abusive, emotional, inaccurate and baseless language that will prove a gift to Israel-bashers, pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) anti-Semites, Israel-hating journalists and other Jew-hating propagandists.
• Tzipi Livni, former opposition leader, the Kadima Party leader, former foreign minister and now a Zionist Union member of the Knesset, described the government as “evil.”
• Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labor Party who had just ended talks to join the Netanyahu government, lambasted Netanyahu, saying, “You are beholden to the most extremist elements, and we will fight you and them.”
• Former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned in recent days against a “hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements” and of Israel being “infected by the seeds of fascism.”
• Israel Defense Forces’ Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan stated in a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day that he is frightened by “the abhorrent processes that took place in Europe, and Germany in particular, some 70, 80 or 90 years ago, and [by my] finding manifestations of these processes here among us in 2016.”
• Or Ya’alon, normally a careful and understated politician, in leaving the government felt it necessary to describe what is happening in Israel as “manifestations of extremism, violence and racism,” which he says are even “trickling into the armed forces.”
Accordingly, Israel’s enemies can now use against Israel the absurd, hysterical words of prominent Israeli officials that Israel is a racist, evil, extreme and fascist state verging on Nazism.
These are emotional and ridiculous political utterances –– not substantive, factual statements. Israel is a rule of law, a human rights-observing society; its armed forces the most painstakingly upright and ethical in the world, its Arab minority enfranchised and its highest leaders accountable to the law. Arabs, Christians and gays have full and equal rights, far different from the human rights-abusing situation in Arab states in the Middle East.
At a time when Israel is fighting the anti-Semitism of BDS, these officials lend fuel to the BDS movement, not to mention to the increasingly virulent hostility of journalists, of many nations and the U.N.
It is no secret that many people in Israeli public life, not least Netanyahu, who just admitted Lieberman to his Cabinet, have disagreements with Lieberman. His contentious ideas include creating a Palestinian state that incorporates Israeli Arabs in neighboring border areas of Israel, while incorporating Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria that border Israel into the Jewish state. And some are critical of Lieberman’s calling for the death of terrorist murderers and of his call to destroy the terrorist group Hamas, whose charter calls for murdering every Jew, while having launched tens of thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians. Isn’t the U.S. waging a campaign to destroy the Islamic State group, even though it operates elsewhere, whereas Hamas operates on Israel’s doorstep?
Some of these ideas are open to debate, but so are most everyone else’s. The proper way for Israeli leaders to deal with views with which they disagree is to explain to the public why they believe those views will not lead to peace and to persuade the public that their ideas are better –– not to malign the country and some of its leaders with ugly and inaccurate name-calling.
How painfully bizarre that some of these very same Israeli leaders ignore Palestinian Authority dictator Mahmoud Abbas’ alliance with Hamas, his speeches and actions inciting anti-Semitic violence and his support of BDS, and yet call him a “moderate” while using inappropriate, baseless and vitriolic terms about their own leaders and government.
Instead, these senior Israeli figures have been unintentionally benefitting the work of the Jewish state’s deligitimizers and enemies. Imagine the boost the BDS campaign — whose raison d’être is defaming and ending the State of Israel –– will get from quoting these words for their own purposes. Imagine the inspiration and ammunition Israel-bashing politicians, academics, journalists, radical anti-Israel Arab and student groups gain from such careless language.
Critics of the Israeli government would be well advised to pause and consider the use to which their words can be put and to adjust their language accordingly. It is a basic test of public relations prudence, which these leading Israel figures failed this past week. As the Torah teaches, words are so powerful a mountain can hang by the thread of a single word.
Morton A. Klein is the president of the Zionist Organization of America.