Haaretz columnist Yossi Klein on Friday doubled down on opinions he set out in a piece published earlier this week that caused a storm, in which he claimed that the religious Zionist movement is “more dangerous than Hezbollah.”
In the opinion piece, published Wednesday and titled in Hebrew “Our self-righteous elite,” Klein wrote: “The national religious are dangerous. More dangerous than Hezbollah, more than drivers in car-ramming attacks or girls with scissors (referring to a stabbing terror attack by a Palestinian teenage girl). The Arabs can be neutralized, but they cannot.” He went on: “What do they want? To rule the country and cleanse it of Arabs.”
The article was condemned by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many of his coalition partners, including members of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party. Prominent opposition lawmakers condemned the op-ed as well, and accused Klein of harming the Israeli left.
Defending his assertions in a TV interview, Klein said his comparison to Hezbollah was intended to highlight that religious Zionism has become a “political body,” and that combining politics with religion is dangerous “no less than Hezbollah.”
When his Channel 2 interviewer, Amnon Abramovich, told Klein that Hezbollah should “not be in your arsenal” when he writes, Klein said criticizing his piece because of that comparison was “missing the issue.”
“The issue is us — what happens among us and what is convenient for us to overlook,” Klein said.
After being accused by Abramovich of “committing the sin of generalization,” and being confronted with a list of religious-Zionist thinkers who were moderate and promoted dialogue, Klein said any listing of the religious Zionist group should also include the Jewish underground, a Jewish terror group active in the 1980s, and Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Every generalization by its nature, Klein said, misses the individuals. “I refer to religious Zionism as a political body,” he said, adding that naturally, when you examine individuals in the political camp, you will find a range of opinions.
“If you want to influence people,” retorted Abramovich, “you must not use ‘ear splitting expressions’.”
Klein claimed that the Israeli right-wing allows itself to act in ways that are forbidden to the left-wing. “The justice minister (Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home) said my piece was anti-Semitic,” he said. “She didn’t even read it. She can’t point to anything anti-Semitic about it. She just said it. You know, you taint something you dislike with an adjective like ‘anti-Semitic,’ and that’s it, you did your part. Or ‘incitement.’ What is inciting in this piece?”
Defending his choices of wording, Klein said: “I use the language that is acceptable today. This language where the right-wing generalizes and the left-wing generalizes, this is apparently the language that has become acceptable here.
“I am not the one who began with name-calling,” Klein said. “It is the current government that began with name-calling. It is the government that generalizes about the left and calls us ‘traitors’. It is he who whispered in the ear of Rabbi Kaduri that the left-wingers ‘forgot what it means to be Jews’.”
Klein was referring to a comment made by Netanyahu in the late 1990s when he visited Kaduri, who was considered an influential voice among Israel’s religious electorate.
Abramovich said the article’s opening lines, which featured the Hezbollah reference, are the “heart of its problems,” to which Klein answered: “You know what? Take these first three lines, excise them and throw them away. Do you agree with the rest?”
Klein added: “I cannot ignore the fact that this op-ed presents me in a light that is not true. I see myself as patriotic. I’ll tell you more: I see myself as more patriotic than them, because I genuinely believe the things that they are doing – and everyone who criticizes them is labeled as anti-patriotic or even anti-Semitic – these things hurt me, hurt this country, this country which is my homeland.”