Labor: Likud spreading ‘fake news’ to stymie protest against nation-state law
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Ahead of Druze-led Tel Aviv rally over legislation

Labor: Likud spreading ‘fake news’ to stymie protest against nation-state law

Opposition party files police complaint against Likud activists for sharing fabricated conversation purporting coordination between Labor and Druze activists

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel set up a protest tent in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2018. ( Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel set up a protest tent in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2018. ( Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hours before the start of Saturday’s mass rally in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, false rumors were allegedly being spread online that Israel’s main opposition party was directly involved in organizing the protests against the controversial legislation.

Screenshots of WhatsApp conversations posted to the social media accounts of known right-wing activists and members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Saturday morning claimed to show Labor party members purportedly colluding with Druze activists leading the campaign against the law.

Hadashot TV news named the distributor of some of the faked messages as Nidal Ibrahim, a veteran Likud activist, who told the TV station that he had spoken to the police about the incident and “I trust them to get to the truth of the issue.”

Anger in the Druze community has been growing over the Knesset’s refusal to include any mention of equality for minorities in the law it passed July 19, which has been criticized as discriminatory against Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.

The nation-state law — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities and opposition, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

In one allegedly faked conversation, a Labor activist named Avi Yaron told someone named Kramer that he met with Druze activist Amal As’ad and offered him the party’s support and a spot on the Labor list in the next election. Yaron said As’ad assured him the Druze community would reject any compromise offered by Netanyahu, and said that Labor leader Avi Gabbay had agreed to As’ad joining the party.

Haaretz said its investigation into the messages revealed there is no Labor official by the name of Avi Yaron. Kramer was not identified in the original posts.

Screenshots of the conversations were shared by Likud member, rapper and far-right provocateur Yoav Eliasi “The Shadow,” as well as Likud activist Ibrahim Nidal on Saturday morning. Eliasi’s Facebook post of the conversation was shared more than 1,200 times by the afternoon.

In response, the Labor party filed a police complaint against Eliasi and Nidal for distributing the “fake correspondence” on behalf of the Likud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“It’s completely fake, 100% untrue. Every name, every letter and every message are simply not real,” the party said in a statement. “This is the kind of thing that is coming out of the hate machine on Balfour Street to disrupt the demonstration tonight,” in reference to the Prime Minister’s Office.

On Twitter, Gabbay slammed Netanyahu’s office for promoting a “dangerous and demonic spirit that is ripping our society apart. Everything is kosher when its time for elections or time to get out of investigations.”

As’ad also denied the conversation with Yaron ever took place. “I’m embarrassed that I even have to respond to such nonsense,” he said according to Haaretz. “I can’t believe they stooped to this level,” adding that he wasn’t sure if Netanyahu’s office was the source of the fake conversation.

The dispute came two days after Netanyahu angrily cut short a meeting with Druze community leaders to discuss the law, and amid his veiled accusation that his political opponents on the Left were leading the Druze-led efforts against the law.

On Thursday, Netanyahu walked out of a meeting with Druze leaders when As’ad, a prominent Druze activist and former IDF brigadier general, criticized the law.

Netanyahu was apparently enraged by As’ad accusing him of turning Israel into an “apartheid state” and calling the law “evil and racist.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2018. (Hadashot TV screen capture)

As’ad on Friday told Hadashot news he said no such thing, implying Netanyahu was looking for an excuse to end the meeting.

“I wrote a post 10 days ago in which I wrote that if that law is realized Israel is on the path to apartheid, and I’m not the only one saying that,” he said. He also insisted that he had not crashed the meeting, contrary to some accounts.

But Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who was in the meeting, disputed his account.

“I heard with my own ears the outrageous statement that Israel is an apartheid state,” said Levin.

As’ad, a former infantry commander and veteran of multiple wars who lost a brother in fighting in the Gaza Strip, in the past expressed support for the Likud party. He has been active in initiatives to commemorate the sacrifices of Druze IDF soldiers.

He urged Druze to come to Tel Aviv on Saturday and take part in the protest. “Tomorrow’s demonstration is for the state of Israel, not against it,” As’ad said Friday.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Netanyahu posted an article published by right-wing news site Mida, claiming that the New Israel Fund was among the organizations indirectly sponsoring the rally. It claimed that Druze protesters were spreading “baseless claims” that the legislation would sanction discrimination against non-Jewish minorities and downgrade the official status of the Arabic language.

Israeli rap singer Yoav Eliasi takes part at a right-wing demonstration in support of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel, August 9, 2014. (Flash90)

Netanyahu has repeatedly leveled harsh criticism against the NIF in the past, accusing the group of being hostile to Israel and funding various anti-Zionist activities and groups.

The NIF in a statement on Friday denied it was funding the Druze campaign against the law or Saturday’s protest.

The nation-state law — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s minorities and opposition, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

The law has prompted particular outrage from the Druze community, who say its provisions will officially render them second-class citizens in Israel.

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger at the new law with a package of benefits, but on Thursday, cut a meeting with community leaders short citing As’ad’s earlier criticism that the “evil and racist” legislation risks turning Israel into an “apartheid” state.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to gather in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square later on Saturday to protest against he law.

Participants and speakers at the rally are expected to include As’ad; the Druze community’s top spiritual leader, Sheikh Muafak Tarif; former Shabak heads Yuval Diskin and Ami Ayalon; Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; former Mossad head Tamir Pardo; and TV host and social commentator Lucy Aharish.

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