Eight Jewish organizations this week signed a public statement accusing Israel of being, in effect, a racist state. Seven of them were left-of-center groups whose harsh criticism of Israel is old news. But one of them was the National Council of Jewish Women, a venerable American Jewish organization that ordinarily does not associate itself with such vile smears of the Jewish state.
The statement, distributed on July 31 as an Internet advertisement, accused “the Prime Minister and Government Ministers” of Israel of engaging in “shameful and dangerous incitement” against Israel’s Arab citizens.
That is an extremely serious charge. A regime that deliberately incites hatred against citizens of a particular ethnic and racial group is behaving on the moral level of some of the worst authoritarian regimes in memory.
So what’s the evidence? Where’s the proof that the Israeli government has degenerated into a mob of racist inciters?
The declaration cites three pieces of “evidence.”
The first refers to an incident in April. An Israeli news report claimed that some fans at a soccer game in the Israeli Arab village of Sakhnin refused to stand, or even booed, during a moment of silence for Israeli victims of a recent flood. The article was then posted on the Facebook page of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a statement by the prime minister calling the fans’ behavior “an utter disgrace.”
Criticizing individuals for their behavior is not “racist,” and it’s not “incitement.” In this case, however, as soon as doubts arose concerning the accuracy of the report, the prime minister’s staff removed it from the Facebook page. Certainly, it was careless of them not to have looked further into the story before publicizing it. But that’s not the same as deliberately and maliciously trying to whip up hatred of all Israeli Arabs.
The other “evidence” in this week’s declaration was even less credible. It pointed to the fact that two cabinet ministers strongly criticized the pro-terrorist statements and actions of Arab Knesset member Ayman Odeh.
The ministers didn’t criticize Odeh for being an Arab. They didn’t call for Arabs to be banned from the Knesset. In fact, they didn’t call for any action against Arabs at all. They called for action against Odeh because of his indisputable record of supporting terrorism and terrorists.
For example, in an interview with Israel Army Radio on Oct. 6, 2015, Odeh was asked about that week’s Palestinian murders of U.S. citizen Eitam Henkin and his wife, Na’ama, in front of their four young children. At first, Odeh avoided endorsing the murders, but then he asserted that Palestinians have “a right to struggle” against Israel. He cited the first intifada—with its thousands of bombings, shootings and other attacks—as an example of “struggle” that is “fully justified.”
Pressed by the interviewer as to whether throwing rocks at Jews is legitimate, Odeh replied: “I always blame the occupation for being guilty. I cannot tell the nation how to struggle, where and which target to throw the rock. I do not put red lines on the Arab Palestinian nation.”
Knesset member Itzik Shmuly denounced Odeh’s statements as “angering and disappointing.” Shmuly represents the Zionist Union, better known as the Labor Party. One of the eight groups signing this week’s statement was Ameinu, better known as the U.S. wing of the Labor Party. I wonder why they didn’t include Shmuly in their denunciation of “incitement.” I guess if “our guy” says it, then it’s not incitement.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya television on March 4, 2016, Odeh was asked about the wave of Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis. He replied: “We should examine our history and the history of the nations to determine strategies. There is no doubt that a popular intifada is most beneficial to the Palestinian people. I, from my place, cannot tell the Palestinian people how to resist.”
Just six weeks ago, on June 18, Odeh took part in a conference in eastern Jerusalem sponsored by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The PFLP and the DFLP are terrorist groups that have murdered and maimed many hundreds of Israelis—and Americans—since the 1960s. That’s who Ayman Odeh chooses to associate with. And that’s why he deserves to be criticized.
I’m not surprised that J Street and Americans for Peace Now signed the “anti-incitement” declaration. Pointing an accusing finger at Israel has become their trademark. But I am profoundly disappointed that the National Council of Jewish Women would sully its good name by allowing itself to be dragged into this smear of the Jewish state.
I’m giving the leaders of the NCJW the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they were misled by the other signatories. Perhaps they did not see the final text before they gave their approval. Maybe they didn’t carefully research the claims that are made in the anti-Israel declaration. They can rectify this error by immediately disavowing the declaration.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” will be published later this year.