Israel lobby’s ‘Death to the Arabs’ damage control

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 23, 2021

Over the last few days, disturbing videos have shown mobs of Israeli Jewish youths rampaging through occupied East Jerusalem and attacking Palestinians.

“Every evening this week, dozens of young Jews walked around Jerusalem’s city center, chanting ‘Death to Arabs’ and attacking passers-by with stones and tear gas,” Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The situation escalated further on Thursday, when more than 100 Palestinians were injured as a result of mob violence provoked by the far-right Jewish group Lehava.

On Thursday night, a death-chanting Israeli mob headed for Damascus Gate, a landmark entrance to the walled Old City in occupied East Jerusalem.

One chant reported by Israeli journalist Nir Hasson was “Ha’am doresh Aravim ba esh” – “The people demand Arabs in the fire.”

As Palestinians gathered to defend the area, some with stones and bottles, Israeli occupation forces fired at them with stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons.

More than 20 Palestinians required treatment in hospital, according to the Red Crescent.

Israeli Jewish mobs reportedly attacked Palestinians across the city and vandalized cars and property.

In the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, settlers attacked a Palestinian woman driving her vehicle with stones, injuring her in the head, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Israeli media reported that one Jewish man was attacked and injured by Palestinians in East Jerusalem who had been banging on his car.

When he got out and tried to flee, according to Haaretz, “Palestinian youths kicked him while he was on the ground.”

The pretext for the Lehava rampage on Thursday night and in previous days was a video allegedly posted by a Palestinian youth on TikTok more than a week ago, showing a youth slapping a Jewish passenger on a Jerusalem train in an apparently unprovoked assault.

Israeli occupation authorities reportedly arrested two Palestinian 17-year-olds in connection with that incident.

Damage control

One person who evidently recognized how embarrassing the scenes of widespread attacks on Palestinians are to Israel’s international propaganda efforts is Avi Mayer, the global communications chief for the American Jewish Committee, a major Israel lobby group.

“I am ashamed and repulsed by the hate-fuelled violence taking place a mile and a half from my home in Jerusalem,” Mayer tweeted.

“The individuals perpetrating it are as foreign to me and my Judaism as are skinheads, white supremacists and other racists around the world. They have no place here,” Mayer added.

This surely ranks as one of the most disingenuous and hypocritical tweets in history.

In 2014, I caught Avi Mayer attending a Death to the Arabs rally in Jerusalem himself, and then attempting to whitewash it.

Mayer claimed that those participating were merely “protesters demanding stronger action against terrorism.”

In fact, they were a mob led by Israeli politician Michael Ben-Ari, and video showed them chanting “mavet la’aravim” – “Death to the Arabs” in Hebrew – just like the most recent videos from Jerusalem.

But there’s stiff competition from Democratic Majority for Israel, a US lobby group aligned with the ruling Democratic Party that put out a tweet to “condemn Lehava’s despicable agenda and violent acts.”

Yet DMFI has yet to condemn or repudiate its own board member Archie Gottesman, an advocate of genocide who in 2018 tweeted: “Gaza is full of monsters. Time to burn the whole place.”

Common cry

Cries of “Death to the Arabs” are sadly an all too common phenomenon in Israel.

And far from being the sole responsibility of a few fringe extremists, they are the direct result of years of anti-Palestinian incitement and dehumanizing rhetoric by Israeli leaders, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s top rabbis to other senior politicians and even comedians and pop singers.

Extreme racist and even genocidal hatred of Palestinians is pervasive in Israeli Jewish society, where there exists no significant popular movement to end decades of Israeli military occupation, apartheid and abuse against Palestinians.

In 2014, Avi Mayer worked for the Jewish Agency, an official body that has long played a role in Zionist colonization of Palestinian land throughout historic Palestine.

This underscores that Mayer is not upset about anti-Palestinian racism and violence per se, but only violence that is not organized and managed by the state.

The American-born Mayer is, after all, a former spokesperson for the Israeli military.

In that role his job was to justify violence and war crimes against Palestinians on a daily basis.

Another case in point is the situation in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinian families face imminent eviction by Israeli occupation authorities.

This is part of Israel’s gradual but relentless ethnic cleansing across East Jerusalem in order to Judaize it, a violent process that began immediately after Israel occupied it in 1967.

West Jerusalem was ethnically cleansed of Palestinians when Zionist forces occupied it in 1948, during the Nakba.

Needless to say, Mayer has tweeted no objections to the state violence in Sheikh Jarrah – or anywhere else that Israeli police or occupation forces routinely attack, injure and kill Palestinians and destroy or steal their property.

Blaming Palestinians

The latest spasm of mob violence – whether it dies down or escalates – is only a symptom of the Israeli state’s systematic violence against Palestinians, which seeks ultimately to force them out and take their place.

The death-chanting mobs in Jerusalem are not, as Mayer would like us to believe, outliers.

Indeed, as of this writing, Netanyahu has not commented on – let alone condemned – the mob violence in Jerusalem.

On Friday, Israel’s public security minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, put out a statement, according to Haaretz, “condemning attacks against Jews in the city, but made no mention of attacks against Arabs, which on Thursday alone ended with more than 100 wounded.”

That’s hardly surprising: As Netanyahu struggles to retain his post as prime minister in the wake of Israel’s latest inconclusive election, he hardly wants to alienate a large part of his racist base.

The violent gangs in Jerusalem and across the rest of the occupied West Bank are and have always been the vanguard of Zionism and the foot soldiers of the colonizer state.

Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books