In Netanyahu’s Israel, Lying Pays

How can a minister or the prime minister lie without batting an eye? No problem. It’s simple: Sling as much mud and lies at your rivals as possible and something will stick. What do you have to lose? At most they’ll catch you in a lie so big or slander so disgusting, like the Likud campaign video featuring the Mount Herzl military cemetery. Then you’ll slough it off and in the next sentence let loose another lie. In the meantime, your rivals do your work for you. When in a raging fury they mention details of your lies and slander, they repeat them and spread the message. Lying pays.

The person who applied this lesson with maximum abandon is that master of the culture of political lies, Donald Trump. He calls his lies “alternative facts.” Methodically crushing the truth ramps up the incitement to hatred. In the United States hate speech has skyrocketed since Trump was elected president.

And it’s not just a virtual threat. A tsunami of filth on the web has dramatically raised the number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents. The massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue was a direct result of incitement and fake news. The president played a key part in this. Sites that fact-check his speeches and tweets report hundreds of lies and false statements.

Those who disseminate lies in Israel, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant and Culture Minister Miri Regev, are trying to imitate him. And there’s no penalty for spreading lies on social media, lies that are easy to disprove, for example that the Labor Party signed a surplus-vote agreement with Arab parties, or that Benny Gantz’s wife is active in the left-wing group Machsom Watch.

As baseless as they may be, something will always stick. The fact is, when you Google the words Machsom Watch, the name Revital Gantz pops up.

Here’s a typical example of the way Netanyahu works in the “post-truth age.” Last year he falsely posted on Facebook that fans of the soccer team in the Arab town of Sakhnin whistled during a moment of silence for young people killed in a flood in the Negev. “Shame and disgrace,” Netanyahu wrote. “I expect every public leader to denounce this shameful behavior.”

This quickly turned out to be a lie but it took Netanyahu five days to delete the post, with no apology. The system worked: Many people attacked him because of the post and repeated the slanderous lie countless times.

The Berl Katznelson Foundation, which monitors hate speech online in Hebrew, found more than 200,000 racist exchanges in a month. Every day this stinking swamp produces hundreds of direct calls to violence: to murder, to burn, to pummel, to rape.

Hate speech is not “balanced.” The mantra of “extremists on both sides” is false. For years the left has been the main target of threats and violence. There are many slanderous statements against people on the right as well, sometimes venomous and very insulting.

But the threat of violence and the use of violence is directed mainly against the left, thus they're usually the ones who need bodyguards. I have experienced this myself after receiving death threats.

Nelson Mandela said that just as people learn to hate they can be taught to love because “love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” If only that were true. In the meantime, incitement pays off.

There is something almost unrealistic about the fact that Netanyahu is suspected of breach of trust in affairs from years ago while his emissaries and agitators are spreading bald-faced lies right now. This election campaign is drowning in lies. This is a true breach of trust and it’s happening right out in the open.

There’s no need for long investigations and for people to turn state’s evidence. It’s enough to listen to the speeches and read the posts. This is criminal discourse in every way, and when it reaches the highest levels of government and spreads its poison from there it’s much more corrupt and dangerous than Netanyahu’s relationship with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes or sick freeloading by the couple who crave cigars and champagne.

Published in Ha'aretz.

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