Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said a controversial bill to legalize unauthorized Israeli outposts in the West Bank amounted to legitimizing theft and referred to the legal saga over the outposts as a “virus” that endangers Israeli democracy.
Herzog’s voice was the latest in a string of condemnations against the bill, which aims to stave off a demolition order against the Amona outpost and other illegal settlements, since a panel of ministers gave it a green light Sunday.
His use of the term “virus,” though, raised hackles in a country sensitized to use of medical terms to demonize others, due to its echoes of Nazi propaganda about Jews.
“I understand the pain of the families [but] you were given two years to evacuate. Look what this virus is doing to Israel and how dangerous it is to our democracy,” Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union Knesset faction, told Army Radio. He then quoted a verse from the Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot), “… were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive,” which refers to the chaos that ensues when the rule of law is absent.
Herzog also slammed the proposed outpost legislation, which has been termed indefensible by the attorney general, saying it was unprecedented.
“It is a very serious stain in the book of Israeli law because it is a law that approves theft and robbery,” Herzog said, referring to private Palestinian land that, under the bill, the state would be entitled to appropriate in return for financial compensation to the owners.
The bill is not yet law, but the nod of support from the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday means it is on its way toward becoming a government-sponsored bill, a status that would put significant pressure on the coalition’s majority in the Knesset to help advance it into law.
The legislation, proposed by the nationalist-Orthodox Jewish Home party, is designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the Amona outpost. It was previously deemed unconstitutional and a likely violation of international law by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who told the government there may not be legal grounds on which to defend it when it faces an all-but-certain appeal to the High Court of Justice.
It was not immediately clear what Herzog’s “virus” comment was referring to, in part because his radio interviewer spoke over him when he was making the reference to the Ethics of Our Fathers. Later Monday, he sent out a tweet saying that the comment referred to the Amona bill, and not the settlers.
Nonetheless, the comments sparked a storm of criticism, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on him to apologize.
In May 2012 the-then MK Miri Regev apologized after she called Sudanese asylum-seekers in Israel “a cancer in our body” during a speech.
Regev, of the Likud party, said her statement was misconstrued after she come under fire for the comment, which some people criticized as being similar to the types of accusations that were made about Jews during the Holocaust.
She explained that she was talking about the phenomenon of illegal migration and not about the migrants themselves.
On Sunday night, Herzog led a group of politicians and others railing against the Amona bill, which was pushed forward by Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over Netanyahu’s objections.
“Those who voted for Netanyahu got Bennett instead, and rather than run a government, all we see is a prime minister who works to protect his own interests and engage in [media] campaigns against his critics,” Herzog charged.
In 2014, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Amona outpost, which lies several kilometers east of Ramallah, was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished by December 25 of this year. The decision followed over a decade of delays and appeals by the state, the Palestinians from a nearby village and the residents of Amona.
The impending evacuation could threaten to destabilize Netanyahu’s strongly right-wing coalition, which relies heavily on the pro-settlement right.