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Misconception 7:
Politics of Hate and Doesn’t Undermine Our Security

A country whose survival depends on a “people’s army” cannot allow itself leaders who systematically incite against half of the nation.

October 1995

  Netanyahu tells Prime Minister Rabin: “Your government is the most alienated and distant from Jewish values that we have ever had.”

October 1997 

Netanyahu to Rabbi Kadouri: “The Left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish. They think our security should be left to the Arabs.”

January 2010 

The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization launches a public campaign against the New Israel Fund, which it accuses of hating the IDF.

March 2015 

Netanyahu on Election Day: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves – left-wing organizations are bringing them in buses.”

August 2017 

Netanyahu: “The Left and the media—they’re the same thing—are mobilizing for an obsessive and unprecedented witch hunt against me and my family, with the goal of staging a coup d’état.”

November 2019 

Likud campaign spokesperson, Erez Tadmor: “We have built two countries here—one of them of the propertied, the hegemons, the elites; and a country of second-class citizens who are the majority of the people. The children of the Left milk that country for everything it can give.”

March 2020 

Netanyahu’s advisor Nathan Eshel: “The non-Ashkenazim, what gets them worked up? They hate everything. This hate is what unites our camp.”

July 2020 

Minister Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana calls the Balfour protesters “anarchists.” Netanyahu calls them “spreaders of disease.”

December 2021

  Netanyahu: “This is the first Palestinian government of Israel. Bennett prefers a government with supporters of terrorism who reject the existence of the State of Israel to the security of the country’s citizens.

January 2023

Justice Minister Yariv Levin unveils the reform to weaken the judicial system: “We go to the polls, vote, and elect a government, but time after time people we didn’t elect make the decisions for us.”

March 2023

 Minister Shlomo Karhi tells Air Force reserve pilots: “The people of Israel will manage without you and you can go to hell!” Yaakov Bardugo: “The reserve pilots are pus that has to be removed”

March 2023 

The head of the Military Intelligence Research Department, Brig.-Gen. Amit Sa’ar, in a letter to Netanyahu: “Israel is in an acute and unprecedented crisis that threatens its unity and weakens it.” Defense Minister Gallant: “This legislation poses a clear and present danger to national security.”

September 2023

MK Tali Gottlieb: “The GSS and IDF are working for the terrorists.”

October 7, 2023

  Hamas launches a surprise attack on the Gaza periphery settlements. Some 1,200 Israelis are murdered Israelis and 240 abducted. Before the day is over, Netanyahu supporters are spreading conspiracy theories about “domestic traitors.” Later Netanyahu blames the reservists’ protest and his wife alleges that “it’s the demonstrators who are to blame.”

From Netanyahu’s infamous whisper in Rabbi Yitzhak Kadouri’s ear in 1997 that “the Left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish,” through to his advisor Nathan Eshel’s confession in 2019 that “hate is what unites our camp, Netanyahu’s governments have worked determinedly to divide the Israeli public into two hostile camps. On the one side are the “true” Israelis—patriotic, loyal, lovers of their land and people (that is, supporters of Netanyahu); on the other hand, supposedly less authentic Israelis—a fifth column that serves foreign interests and is not truly part of the Jewish people or the State of Israel (Arabs, leftists, and all those opposed to Netanyahu).

The politics of polarization orchestrated by Netanyahu and his associates is unprecedented in Israel, but well known from studies of populist political parties elsewhere in the world. Populism divides the public into the “real people” and “traitorous and snobbish elites,” or, translated into Israeli terms—the Second Israel and the First Israel. Populists present themselves as the sole, constant, and unchallenged representatives of the entire people—and their opponents as aloof and detached at best and as actual traitors at worst.

Under Likud rule, populism has infected the entire Israeli right wing. After years of incitement against Arabs, leftists, and political opponents, last year the government branded the hundreds of thousands who protested against the judicial overhaul—many of whom are now risking their lives on the frontlines—as anarchists and traitors. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi had fond wishes for the pilots who were demonstrating: “The people of Israel will manage without you and you can go to hell!” Yet it soon became clear that the country has a desperate need not only for its Air Force but also for the other protest organizations. Netanyahu recently accused these citizen groups, which recovered much faster than the institutions of the state and have been at the forefront of the efforts to assist victims and soldiers since the start of the war, of “joining forces with the PLO, with Iran.”

Netanyahu accused the groups that had demonstrated against the judicial overhaul—which recovered much faster than the institutions of the state and have been at the forefront of the efforts to assist victims and soldiers since the start of the war—of “joining forces with the PLO, with Iran.”

On October 7, the terrible price for Netanyahu governments’ security failure was paid by the kibbutzim near the Gaza border, including Be’eri, Nir Oz, Nahal Oz, Kefar Aza, and Nirim. Their residents, who were slaughtered, injured, and abducted, are precisely those whom Netanyahu’s people have spent years branding as the spoiled and privileged elite of the First Israel. In 2020 the Prime Minister’s son, Yair, stretched this to the limit when he referred to kibbutz members as “detestable Communists“ and even compared the kibbutz movement to the Nazi party. Minister Dudi Amsalem compared kibbutzniks to the whites in South Africa during an inciteful speech from the Knesset rostrum.

The Brothers in Arms protest organization and residents of kibbutzim are just the most recent in a long line of groups targeted by right-wing populist incitement. Back in 2013, the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization labeled left-wing activists as foreign “moles” who collaborate with the enemy. On election day in 2015, Netanyahu himself claimed falsely that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves – left-wing organizations are bringing them in buses.” A year later he claimed that left-wing parties were celebrating the anti-Israeli resolutions passed by the United Nations, “almost like the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.” Naftali Bennett, when he was still head of the Jewish Home political faction, explained that “auto-antisemitism is a social-psychological phenomenon in which a Jew develops obsessive contempt and hostility towards Jewish tradition, customs, and observant Jews”—while claiming that the Ha’aretz newspaper suffers from this syndrome. In 2020, Arye Deri warned against the “danger” that elections might yield a left-wing government full of hatred for religion and Judaism. That same year Erez Tadmor, one of the founders of Im Tirtzu and a right-wing publicist, said those who vote for the Left are “pampered, thankless, spoilt kids who were born to the right families in the right neighborhoods. No one throws stones or Molotov cocktails at them. Their children don’t serve in Golani or Givati [military brigades].” In short, for years the Right has conducted a campaign that divides Israel into two groups: those who support the government, and antisemitic traitors who hate Israel.

International studies have shown consistently that populist governments are less capable of managing national crises and that polarized societies are more vulnerable to psychological warfare and disinformation.

The danger posed by the eruption of toxic populism in a place like Israel is not limited to the sense of alienation and insult it arouses amongst wide segments of the population. In a country that is surrounded by enemies and faces a constant military threat, such politics exact a price in human life. International studies have shown consistently that populist governments are less capable of managing national crises and that polarized societies are more vulnerable to psychological warfare and disinformation.

It turns out that right-wing populism severely damaged our social fabric and national resilience. Netanyahu spent years building a sophisticated propaganda machine—from the free daily newspaper Israel Today through the right-wing TV station Channel 14—whose purpose is to transmit his hate-filled talking points to every home in the country. These efforts were successful. Since Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, the polarization of Israeli society, which had declined during the first decade of the current century, has been increasing consistently. We all feel this.

In recent months the heads of the security services, protesters, and even ministers tried to warn Netanyahu against the consequences of the unprecedented rift being torn in Israeli society—but in vain. Anyone who dared sound an alert about how the government of incitement was harming national security was skewered by the Prime Minister’s henchmen. When Gadi Eizenkot, a former IDF Chief of Staff and member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warned that disaster was imminent, Netanyahu’s crony Yaakov Bardugo accused him of “panic-mongering.” When the current Chief of Staff, Herzi Halevi, wanted to present Netanyahu with details of the judicial overhaul’s impact on the IDF, the Prime Minister refused to meet with him. Military Intelligence sent Netanyahu no fewer than four letters warning that Israel’s enemies were identifying “historic points of weakness” as a result of the schism in Israeli society; yet Netanyahu chose to proceed with the overhaul. It was recently reported that the head of the Military Intelligence Research Department, Brig. Gen. Amit Sa’ar, personally warned Netanyahu that “all the players in the [security] system note that Israel is in a serious, unprecedented crisis, which threatens its cohesion and weakens it. For our main enemies—Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—this weakness is an expression of a linear process ending with Israel’s collapse, and the current situation is an opportunity to accelerate and deepen its troubles.” In other words, when this war began, Israeli society was more fragmented, divided, and hate-filled than ever, and paid for years of unbridled incitement that undermined its military power and security.

Netanyahu built a sophisticated propaganda machine intended to transmit his hate-filled talking points to every home in the country. These efforts paid off. Since he returned to power in 2009, the polarization of Israeli society, which had been declining, has been increasing consistently.

Alongside the damage to social solidarity, populism erodes the institutions of the state. The populist Right in Israel is deeply engaged in an aggressive assault against government agencies, the Attorney General, the courts, and the independent media. Its animosity towards these institutions is a direct product of its worldview: any limits imposed on its own political representatives are a limit on the will of the people. Thus whenever some unelected figure—whether journalist, judge, or civil servant—argues that the government is acting in a fashion that will not benefit the citizens, the Right denounces this as an attempt by the “deep state” or “bureaucrats’ regime” to promote elitist left-wing policy at the expense of the voters. When the professional echelons are under frontal attack, good people leave the civil service (this year alone there has been a decline of 30% in applications for jobs in government ministries) and essential services do not function properly in wartime (according to the State Comptroller, “the common denominator of these failings is the lack of emergency preparedness”). The state institutions that have collapsed are replaced by resolute citizens. As the head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Giora Saltz, said recently, in response to the government’s malfeasance during the war: “We are part of an experiment that is the first of its kind in the world. Can a country function in wartime without a government? That is our situation at the moment.”

The spirit of voluntarism, the expressions of solidarity, and the acts of bravery that have been seen in the country since the start of the war are evidence of the moral fiber that still exists in Israeli society—not by virtue of, but despite and in contrast to the government’s performance. The conspiracy theories being peddled on the Right that claim “domestic traitors” were responsible for the fiasco of October 7 and that the residents of the kibbutzim “brought it on themselves,” the violence against the families of those abducted, and the paralysis of the institutions of the state—all of this is evidence of the vast damage that the populist regime has done to Israel’s security.