Following up on my post about the assault on Israeli gay activists by Bayit Yehudi (BY) thugs during an election rally in Haifa, I’ve interviewed the Party spokesperson, Itamar Fleischman and Lilach Ben David, one of the victims. The real story is much more complex, disturbing and interesting than the Haaretz news report which spurred my post initially.
Lilach is a Mizrahi LGBT activist who also works on Israeli social justice issues. She went to the Bennett rally in Haifa with four fellow activists. Four of them were women and four of them were also, interestingly, Mizrahi. One of these was Naama Lazimi, who is also a member of the Haifa branch of the Labor Party. They decided to protest at the Bayit Yehudi rally the hypocrisy and racism of the Party. Among the issues were: MK candidates who derided same sex marriage and Bennett’s support for the dismantling of public housing and transfer of this funding to settlements.
Tal Schneider notes that BY candidate, Bezalel Smotrich trumpeted on Facebook that he was a “proud homophobe,” and that gays have a right to be “abnormal” at home but that the State shouldn’t be asked to accept homosexuality as “normal.” He is known for provocations like organizing an “animal parade” of cattle through Jerusalem streets during the gay pride celebration there.
The Party leader doubled down on this himself:
“Let them in the media say that we are backwards, homophobes and extremists…”
One of the responses of the gay community to some of this hysteria was, as Schneider notes, a “Saturday of gay love,” designed to shock the prudes in the Party.
Given the BY claims about the protest and supposed threat it posed to Bennet’s security, it’s important to note that while there was private security at the event, no guests were searched, there were no metal detectors or weapons searches, and no bags were inspected. Though Bennett has a Shabak security detail, it had no involvement in security for the event. It merely accompanied him once he entered the hall.
Once inside, when Bennett began to speak one group shouted questions and criticism at him (video) while raising a gay pride rainbow flag. The flag was ripped from the hands of the person holding it and the protesters were assaulted. In another part of the hall, Lilach Ben David decided to climb to the balcony, which was empty and isolated (see her video). Once she arrived there and Bennett began speaking, she shouted slogans accusing the minister of closing factories in development towns with high unemployment. She also called him “racist” and a “thief.”
Ben David noted to me that Bayit Yehudi is monolithic Ashkenazi, pro-settler Party. In our context, it would be called “lily-white.” Before the Party primaries, Bennett wanted to soften the BY’s image so he attempted to guarantee a Knesset seat for Israel’s most famous soccer star, Eli Ohana. When the Party faithful learned of this, they arose as one and demanded that it be overturned. Bennett bowed to pressure and Ohana was out of the race. This is why Ben David called the BY leader “racist.” It was also one of the reasons this group of Mizrahi social justice activists targeted the hypocrisy of Bayit Yehudi.
Returning to the night of the protest, several Party members ran to the balcony and asked her to stop. When she refused, one of her attackers gave her till three to stop. When she again refused, he began punching her in the face and body. Her glasses were thrown over the parapet and landed on the stage below. She turned her body to protect herself so her back was to the thug beating her. He continued punching her. Eventually, the police removed her from the hall and temporarily detained her in an alley outside.
Besides the damage from the punches, she had swelling and contusions on her scalp and other parts of her body. She also wrenched her back and is under treatment with her doctor. Outside the hall, she demanded to file a complaint and that the police search for her assailant, who she described in detail to them. They refused to take a report, and for thirty minutes they refused to look for the attacker. By the time they did, he’d long disappeared from the scene. When she asked the police to summon an EMT, they also refused. Finally, she vomited in the street. Only at that point did they allow her to go home. They filed no charges against her and did not arrest her.
During our interview, Lilach raised an important point about the election campaign: there is none. Everyone knows the far-right will win, again. No major Party is addressing real issues like the economy, social justice, national security or peace. The Combined List of Jewish-Palestinian parties is trying to do so. But it is essentially marginalized. The only slogan the center parties of the so-called Zionist Camp raises is: “We’re not Bibi.” That’s about as inspiring to the electorate as Herbert Hoover calling for a chicken in every pot as his election slogan at the start of the Great Depression.
So, if there are no ideas and no debate on issues, the far-right parties must distinguish themselves in other ways. One, is to trumpet their role as alleged victims of left-wing violence. Raise the specter of Hitler, the Holocaust and Rabin’s assassination. Those are always good for sympathy from Israeli voters.
She also noted that the far-right uses political slogans of incitement against the left parties by accusing them of welcoming ISIS terrorists to Israel (a campaign ad I noted here) and being “Hamasniks.” Think for a second about what this means. Being associated in any way with Hamas is a crime in Israel. Israel fights repeated wars against Hamas in which Israeli are killed. For the far-right to smear the left with such odious slogans is, in fact, an invitation for the lunatic of the right like Yigal Amir to rise up and smite the enemy.
So, during his interview, Itamar Flesichman falsely claimed that protesters have called Bennett “Hitler.” In fact, such language in public discourse is illegal and had anyone used it they would’ve been arrested. As I wrote in my post, Bayit Yehudi accuses the left of “forgetting the example” of Rabin’s murder. The implication is that the “incitement” of catcalls and protest will inspire a deranged leftist to take the law into his own hands and gun Bennett down.
The Party’s spokesperson also falsely claimed that Bennett’s security detail refused to allow him to enter the hall at all for fear of the violence that might confront him. Bennett himself, supposedly ignored their advice and went on stage anyway. What gives the lie to this accusation is the fact that no one searched anyone entering the hall. No one had to show ID. Had anyone there wished to do Bennett harm, they could easily have done so.
In fact, Lilach make a point of saying that the laxity of security at the event was scandalous. Considering his is a nation in which a rightist zealot murdered a prime minister, you’d think security would be more vigilant.
But the main point is that if Bennett or his security detail believed there was any danger, they would have approached the event entirely differently. The fact that they didn’t indicates they had no concerns about the minister’s physical safety.
Fleishman complained that the disruption of the Party meeting was “anti-democratic” and “illegal.” He further maintained that such behavior would never be allowed at any U.S. political event. When I tried to point out to him that such outbursts are standard procedure during election season here, he flat out denied it and demanded that I send him video of such an incident.
He had a clear sense of entitlement. As if being a major political party entitled it to a certain deference from the public. Bayit Yehudi’s stature somehow demanded a sense of decorum and denying that to the Party was an insult not to be borne. The truth of the matter is that the protesters broke no laws and in fact, were exercising their protected right to free speech. These are hard values for the inheritors of the mantle of Kahane to grasp.
The history of many fascist movements involves accusing their opponents of using precisely the tactics that they use against them. Though there is debate about the origin of the Reichstag Fire, some historians and Nazi archival documents say the Nazis set the fire themselves. But they accused the Communist Party of the plot and argued it was part of a wider plot to topple the Nazi government and launch a coup. This offered Hitler a golden opportunity to clamp down on dissent and solidify his hold on power.
Isn’t it interesting that an Israeli political party accusing the left of a campaign of violence against it, uses savage violence against the supposed perpetrators? Isn’t it interesting that Bayit Yehudi claims its candidate is called “Hitler” when, in fact, Bennett and Neanyahu accuse the left of being the reverse, in cahoots with murdering Arab terrorists. Isn’t it interesting that a rightist Party which abhored Rabin, leader of a Party of the left, accuses the contemporary left of plotting to murder Naftali Bennett. Reality for the fascist mentality is a mirror which reverses everything it sees. Black is white, up is down. Leftists are killers and rightists are victims.
This is a pathological psychology that may lead to rule of the far-right for decades in Israel. But it will also lead inevitably to the ultimate demise of this State based on racism, blood, and oppression and its transformation into one based in justice, equality, and tolerance.