The cabinet dedicated the bulk of its weekly meeting on Sunday to Palestinian incitement; an issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the outset, that stands at “the root of the conflict.”
On Monday, Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and the director general of his ministry, Yossi Kuperwasser, presented damning evidence against the Palestinian Authority to journalists in Jerusalem. Their slick PowerPoint covered hate speech collected from official and semi-official Facebook pages, television stations and children’s magazines.
The Palestinian Authority Incitement Index is an attempt by the Intelligence Ministry to quantify, as scientifically as possible, the level of Palestinian incitement against the Jewish state. The current incitement index stands at just over 40 out of 100, a source in the ministry told The Times of Israel. Netanyahu has directly blamed such incitement for the current uptick in terror attacks on Israelis.
Since October 2009, a team of four Arabic-reading staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office has been scanning PA television and social media in search of Palestinian hate speech. A significant part of the index relies on nongovernmental watchdogs such as Palestinian Media Watch, which this week released footage taken from official Palestinian TV comparing ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli soldiers respectively to crows and rats.
But the haphazard presentation at the Government Press Office on Monday demonstrated, more than anything else, how elusive — or indeed malleable — the term incitement can be.
If incitement comes from the top and trickles down, why mention the Nazi flag flown over the West Bank village of Beit Ummar? Steinitz himself interrupted Kuperwasser’s presentation to acknowledge matter-of-factly that the PA is displeased with the recent proliferation of Nazi symbols in Palestinian society.
On the Palestinian institutional level, is incitement endemic? When the Palestinian National Charter stipulates that “Palestine on its mandatory borders is one, indivisible territory” (a document still available on the website of the PLO Refugee Affairs Department), is that a form of incitement? Here, again, Steinitz admitted that former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad had expressed his concern with the phenomenon of hate speech.
Rather than defining Palestinian incitement, the Israeli government has made a good case that there is widespread Palestinian hatred for Israelis and Jews, and that it proliferates even as peace negotiations are underway. And what the government is tacitly asking is whether an agreement can be signed with those who hate.
Distinguishing incitement from hatred is not nitpicking; it defines our understanding of the issue at hand
Palestinian hate speech can hardly be described as the result of a nefarious top-down plot to poison the minds of children. It is, rather, the authentic expression of deep-seated anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiments spanning culture and religion, shared by young and old, exacerbated by decades of political conflict.
Distinguishing incitement from hatred is not nitpicking; it defines our understanding of the issue at hand. Incitement is a tool, a manipulative technique for fostering animosity which can be rolled back on demand. Hatred runs deep and takes generations if not more to eliminate. For Steinitz, “incitement” is significant because it appears on official TV. But hatred is everywhere, official media included.
But does Palestinian hatred of Israel and Jews preclude a political agreement dividing the land into two nation-states?
In a sarcastic op-ed published Monday in Yedioth Ahronoth, journalist and Israel Prize laureate Nahum Barnea mocked the Israeli government’s fixation on Palestinian incitement. Hatred for the Jewish state, he pointed out, is not unique to Palestinian society but prevails throughout the Arab world, where “copies of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ are sold for pennies.”
“Hatred is the exhaust pipe through which [Arab] regimes alleviate pressure. The boycotting of Israel is complete, encompassing all segments of society,” he noted, but added that Arab animosity to Israel should not rule out a negotiated agreement.
“Words are infuriating, but deeds are more important. We are better off with peace stained in hatred than a return to the state of war,” wrote the veteran columnist, who lost his son Yonatan to a suicide attack in Jerusalem in 1996.
But the potential “stained peace” Barnea was advocating was repeatedly disparaged by Steinitz on Monday as “a piece of paper.”
The Israeli journalist pointed to another flaw in the Israeli argument: double standards. He noted that just as Palestinian maps exclude Israel, Israeli maps exclude Palestinian territories, that Israeli “price tag” vandals target Palestinians, and that extremist rabbis spew incitement.
“Instead of whining about the fact that someone in the PA compared Jews to dogs, the government could ask itself how one of its senior ministers compared Palestinians to shrapnel in the buttocks. It could engage in deep debate on the following question: what is lower, more despicable, a dog or buttocks; and how each are perceived in Palestinian and Jewish traditions.”
The Palestinian government, for its part, has recently begun mirroring the Israeli strategy by documenting and disseminating accounts of anti-Palestinian incitement within Israel. In May 2012, the Palestinian Government began sending out monthly reports based on Facebook and Twitter posts by right-wing politicians and snippets from high school textbooks denying Palestinian statehood.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev rebuffed the Palestinian report as “not serious.”
“Israel does not demonize Palestinians; Israel does not teach its young people to hate Palestinians,” he said.
For a short period a decade ago, Palestinians and Israelis were talking to each other — not just at each other — about incitement. Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, signed the Wye River Memorandum creating trilateral Israeli-Palestinian-American committees to define incitement and discuss ways of tackling it. The committees tapered away, eroded by ineffectiveness and bad will on both sides.
Asked Monday whether Israel would consider reviving the committees as repeatedly suggested by Mahmoud Abbas, Steinitz was dismissive.
“The committees were completely useless because the Palestinians did nothing significant. You don’t need a committee, simply stop it [the incitement]. There are no excuses.”