Mondoweiss / June 18, 2021
Not only did new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett say “I’ve killed many Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that,” but it was actually even worse than it appears.
Israel just got its most right-wing Prime Minister ever, in the form of Naftali Bennett. We have already seen the signs that Israeli pundits were trying to sanitize his racist history, to make him a better sell than Netanyahu.
But what do you do with phrases such as “I’ve killed many Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that”? I mean, that’s one of the singularly most racist things he’s said, it’s often quoted, and it’s not only racist but has a genocidal hint to it?
Well, if you’re StandWithUs, the Israeli propaganda outfit, you try to erase the history by misrepresenting it – by calling it fake news.
Here is the StandWithUs Instagram post from yesterday:
They claim that “Al-Jazeera and Bella Hadid spread fake news”. It features two posts, where the one is Al Jazeera paraphrasing that “Bennett has bragged about killing Palestinians”, and the other is Bella Hadid posting the precise quote:
“I’ve killed many Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.”
StandWithUs claim is that this is a lie. They thus post the supposedly “true” quote:
“I’ve killed many terrorists in my life… this is good and it’s a shame we didn’t kill more terrorists”.
So, who is telling the truth?
Let me spoil it right here — StandWithUs is lying, and Bella Hadid is being very precise. Whether Bennett said the other phrase which StandWithUs cites is irrelevant, because he did indeed say that quote about killing “many Arabs” in 2013.
And the context in which it was said makes it even worse.
On August 15th 2013, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, publicized that it was demanding that an investigation be led against Bennett by the Attorney General. Adalah claimed that Bennett, who was then Minister of Economy, had allegedly engaged in incitement to violence.
This was based on a report by Yediot Aharonot on July 29, 2013, which described an argument that broke out between Bennett and the National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror. In this argument, Bennett said that “If terrorists are caught, they simply need to be killed”. In response to this, Amidror said that “this is illegal”, to which Bennett responded:
“I have killed many Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.”
Mondoweiss covered it at the time here, and here is a screen shot of the Yediot Aharonot article in question:
POSTED TO FACEBOOK ON JULY 28, 2013 BY MANAR YAQUB. IT IS TRANSLATED AS:
BENNETT: “IF [YOU (PL.)/WE/THEY] CATCH TERRORISTS, [YOU] SIMPLY MUST KILL THEM.”
AMIDROR: “LISTEN, THAT ISN’T LEGAL.”
BENNETT: “IN MY LIFE, I ALREADY HAVE KILLED MANY ARABS, AND THERE ISN’T ANY PROBLEM WITH THAT.”
So let’s first unpack this, before we go on. The first problem with Bennett’s words is actually not the most infamous quote, but the one about extrajudicial execution of a suspected “terrorist”. This has been a consistent policy in Israel, which in 2015 was openly advocated for across the political spectrum and the security establishment. Even the ‘liberal’ Yair Lapid, now set to be alternate Prime Minister in the new government, said:
“Whoever takes out a knife or a screwdriver, or whatever it may be, the directive needs to be shoot in order to kill. Not to hesitate. There will be full legal backing. The state gives full legal backing.”
When the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström rightfully called to investigate whether there indeed was a policy of extrajudicial execution in Israel, a prominent educator opined on the pages of the Sheldon Adelson paper Makor Rishon, that she should get the “Bernadotte treatment” – assassination – for even suggesting it. Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed Wallström’s suggestions as “outrageous, immoral, unjust and stupid”.
But now back to Bennett. He was suggesting precisely this. And when it was pointed out to him that this is illegal, he used language that was interchanging “terrorists” for “Arabs”. This is a racist criminalization of Palestinians, which is the quintessence of this whole problem – one is by default suspected as an “Arab”, to be a likely “terrorist”, and then there’s “no problem” with killing you, on that suspicion.
Bennett has himself tried to sanitize this one, in 2015. A tweet of his featured a screenshot of the media publication with that notorious quote, actually featuring the above mentioned exchange with Amidror. Bennett comments:
“Liars, I’m sick and tired of you.”
“I never said “I killed many Arabs in my life” or anything from this quote. I spoke about terrorists. And I’m not apologizing.”
Bennett is using a strawman. He may also have spoken about terrorists, but he also spoke about “Arabs”.
The Jerusalem Post is now adding to the hasbara campaign, saying that “Bella Hadid and Al-Jazeera share slanderous quotes of PM Bennett”. See now how Bennett’s words become mere “controversial” and “misquoted”:
“Controversial 2013 misquoted comments allegedly made by newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett resurfaced on Monday via social media posts by supermodel, Bella Hadid and the Al-Jazeera publication AJ+. The quotes by Bennett stem from a cabinet debate about releasing Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands. In a recent Instagram story, Hadid told her 43 million followers that Bennett said: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there’s no problem with that.””
Jerusalem Post brings to Bennett’s defense his own claim from 2015:
“Bennett, in a Knesset briefing in 2015, clarified that he was inaccurately quoted by former Joint List party member Haneen Zoabi as saying that “I killed a lot of Arabs in my life” when what he actually said was that he had killed many terrorists in the context of his army service.”
It’s obvious that Bennett was faced with his rabidly racist remarks in 2015, by Haneen Zoabi, and it became uncomfortable, so he tried to rewrite the history. Now it’s 2021, he’s Prime Minister, and it’s uncomfortable again, so he’s trying to rewrite it again – with the help of StandWithUs, the Jerusalem Post and others.
This will probably go on and on, so as to plant enough doubt about what Bennett actually said. The next campaign could be: What did he really mean when he said to Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi that “when you were still climbing trees, we had a Jewish state here” ? Was he really calling Palestinians monkeys, or was he just calling Ahmad Tibi a monkey ? Or did he just mean the terrorists ?
Jonathan Ofir – Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark