State Atty. says Liberman’s ‘cut off their heads’ not necessarily violent

At an election event earlier this year the foreign minister said that disloyal Arab citizens of Israel should be decapitated. The State Attorney declines to investigate, exposing a glaring disparity in the freedom of speech — and incitement — granted to Jewish and Arab politicians.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)
Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the 2015 elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

On March 8, 2015, at a pre-election conference at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said about Arab citizens of Israel:

Those who support us should get everything – up to half the kingdom. As for those who are against us, there is no other option before us – we must raise the axe and cut off their heads; otherwise we will not survive here.

When it comes to Palestinian citizens of Israel, Liberman’s definition of “us” and “them” is about as polarized and extreme as it gets. I’m not sure I could think of one Arab — save for Likud MK Ayoob Kara, and maybe not even him — who could get Liberman’s stamp of approval.

In light of such a vitriolic threat by a senior government minister, Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh of Adalah wrote a letter demanding that the Israeli attorney general open a criminal investigation into Liberman for incitement to violence against Arab citizens of Israel.

Liberman’s statement, Shehadeh wrote to the attorney general, constitutes “incitement to violence against all Arab citizens of Israel, and further poison the prevalent atmosphere within Israeli society, which has seen the legitimization of harm towards Arabs just for them being Arabs, without any accountability or punishment.”

I won’t leave you wondering what happened next — the bottom line is that the State Attorney’s Office rejected Adalah’s demand that it open a criminal investigation into Liberman. But you really do have to read their explanation in order to believe it. Among other things, the state attorney wrote:

[Liberman’s remarks] must be considered in the overall context of the statements that he made … it is highly difficult to view these statements as an actual, concrete call to commit violent deeds. It seems that Minister Liberman sought to send a message that it is imperative that the authorities struggle – not a private individual – and not in a violent manner necessarily – against anyone who is disloyal to the state.

The problem is, Mr. State Attorney, is that we do interpret Liberman’s remarks in the context of the wider statements that he made. This call to violence only makes us more worried; it certainly doesn’t quell our fears.

The second part of this strange reasoning appears to be taken directly from the archives of Israeli political satire show “Eretz Nehederet” — an episode in which Liberman admits that he is enigmatic and decipherable, “like a difficult Sudoku, like the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant.”

How many post-modern reading comprehension courses did the state attorney have to take before being able to transform Liberman into a flower child and interpret his “raise the axe and cut off their heads” as “not necessarily violent?”

Of course the state’s creative, feel-good interpretation skills all but disappear when it comes to remarks made by Palestinian members of Knesset. When MK Haneen Zoabi said that some Arab police officers “are collaborators against their own kin, [and] the floor should be cleaned with them,” prosecutors rushed to accuse her of incitement to violence, and opened a criminal case against her.

Because, of course, remarks made by Haneen Zoabi, a persecuted MK representing an oppressed minority, must be understood in their gravest and most extreme interpretation. But Liberman, one of the most senior ministers in the government — his axe can be likened to a Bob Dylan song.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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