Academic on hot seat after tirade against Mizrahi Jews

Police weighing incitement charges against Amir Hetsroni for blaming Likud victory on policy of allowing Middle Eastern Jews into Israel

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Amir Hetsroni on Channel 2's morning show. March 22, 2015. (YouTube screenshot)
Amir Hetsroni on Channel 2's morning show. March 22, 2015. (YouTube screenshot)

An Israeli professor may be investigated by police for hate speech and incitement after speaking out against Jews of Middle Eastern extraction in an invective-filled tirade on Facebook and live TV Sunday.

Amir Hetsroni, a controversial former lecturer at Ariel University, said Israelis of Middle Eastern and North African descent were responsible for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection, a result he emphatically lamented.

Hetsroni’s use of hate-filled language and his subsequent ouster from the TV studio has grabbed the attention of Israelis riven by tensions after a heated campaign season and accusations of racism by Netanyahu, and drawn condemnation from politicians and public figures.

Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino announced Monday that he was looking into the possibility of investigating whether Hetsroni, dismissed last year from his position in the communications department at Ariel University for making insulting comments about women who were victims of sexual assault, can be charged based on the statements he made.

As Hetsroni appeared on Channel 2’s morning news talk show on Sunday, co-host Galit Gutman read aloud a Facebook post in which the professor blamed the Law of Return (a law passed in 1950 guaranteeing the right of all Jews to live in and become a citizen of the State of Israel) for the election results.

“If we didn’t open our legs without selection to all kinds of Jews, questionable Jews and half-Jews from third-rate countries, whose uniting characteristics are to kiss amulets, eat hummus, drink borscht, take government handouts and get an orgasm from arguing with the world — Boujie [Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog] would have taken it in a cake walk…The Israeli left is paying the Zionist price, and no one other than the professor [Hetsroni himself]…is willing to say it,” he wrote.

In an ensuing argument that broke out between Hetsroni and another guest speaker, media personality Amira Buzaglo, Hetsroni exclaimed, “Nothing bad would have happened if your parents had stayed in Morocco and rotted there.”

Although Hetsroni insisted his remark “does not make me a racist or fascist,” co-host Yoav Limor took issue with his statements and asked him to leave the studio, which he did.

Hetsroni’s remarks were met with condemnation from all sides, including from politicians from various parties who took to social media to criticize the professor.

“I reject with disgust Hetsroni’s words of incitement. We’re talking about a provocateur whose statements are hate crimes,” wrote Mossi Raz of the Meretz party.

“I strongly denounce Hetsroni’s nauseating and racist expressions. By the way, I don’t know why they call him a leftist, because he has made hurtful remarks against leftist, feminists, and who knows who else…He’s just a racist provocateur who makes noise and seeks attention…he should be punished,” said Zionist Union MK-elect Ksenia Svetlova.

Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel said he would rather see serious academics talk than “this cheap provocateur who pretends to be an intellectual who just keeps on polluting our TV screens.”

In response, Hetsroni has been defending himself on social media. He is no stranger to controversy, including over an opinion piece he published last summer about freedom of speech against Israel’s operation in Gaza and academic boycotts. A case he filed against Ariel University for its dismissal of him following his statements against sexual abuse victims is still pending in labor court. His profile on the university’s website states that he is on a leave of absence without pay until his employment officially ends on September 30, 2015.

In the wake of the firestorm caused by his appearance on the morning talk show, Hetsroni appeared on the Channel 10 Tzinor Layla show Sunday evening, telling host Guy Lehrer that he plans on leaving Israel within the year.

“I’m leaving you with all this garbage and getting out of here,” he said. “I’m too logical, too smart, and too successful for this country.”

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