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Opposition leader warns of fascist trends in Israeli politics

Isaac Herzog cautions that the government is trying to stifle free speech, artists and academics

Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog leads a Zionist Camp faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on June 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog leads a Zionist Camp faction meeting in the Israeli parliament on June 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday warned of what he called the “fascisization” of Israeli politics.

Herzog, speaking at a cultural event, said there were growing fascist tendencies in the current government. “A serious word, but true,” he said.

“Composers, artists, actors and playwrights are threatened, journalists are fired and threatened, media personalities and outlets are warned of closure at the pleasure of the government, and now academics are threatened and can’t say anything,” said Herzog.

“Anyone who is worried about the fate of the country has to support a large moderate political bloc,” said Herzog who is in the middle of a campaign to retain his place as the head of the Labor Party, which forms the main component of the opposition Zionist Union.

His comments come following suggestions from Education Minister Naftali Bennett that the country needed a code of ethics for university lecturers that would limit them from talking about politics.

It also comes after prominent newspaper columnist Nahum Barnea was fired from the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom newspaper, reportedly for writing articles critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Knesset, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks during a ceremony at the Knesset, April 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has also repeatedly come under fire for threats to cut state funding for artists who portray Israel in what she deems to be a negative light.

Lawmaker Meir Cohen from the centrist Yesh Atid party also criticized Netanyahu for stifling free speech.

“When the leader makes sure that those who disagree with him are called traitors, he leads toward extremism in the nation,” he said.

Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Whoever disagrees with Netanyahu is painted a traitor and hater of Israel. In a democracy there needs to be a discussion of the important issues and its okay to think differently from the government and not be considered a traitor,” he said.

Netanyahu has been leading a campaign against left-wing human rights groups, critical of the government and the IDF, seeking to block their funding from foreign governments.

Earlier in the week Herzog slammed Netanyahu, saying that he was incapable of making peace with the Palestinians and would ultimately disappoint US President Donald Trump, who wants to push a peace deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister Office in Jerusalem, June 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking at an annual security conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Herzog further accused the prime minister of being engaged mostly in his own political survival and following the lead of Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett in order to maintain a right-wing image.

“I say with certainty that Netanyahu is incapable of reaching peace with the Palestinians,” said Herzog. “He can talk, procrastinate and bluff. One day, the White House will have had enough. Netanyahu cannot give Trump what Trump needs to get the Palestinians to negotiate, because Netanyahu is not really ready to go for the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The opposition leader rapped Netanyahu for looking after his own interests by letting Bennett lead him to policies that appeal to the right.

“Netanyahu chooses his personal survival over historical change — he is afraid to leave Balfour Street, so each time Bennett lifts his head, Netanyahu copies him,” Herzog said, referring to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, where Netanyahu has lived in the eight years since he re-assumed office in 2009.

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