Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett is suing a journalist for defamation after the latter attributed to him a remark that seemed to be a slur on the Arab population.
On Sunday, Globes reporter Dror Feuer posted online that “Bennett called all Arabs car thieves. Just like that,” during a speech to young Arab voters at Tel Aviv University. Dozens of Arab students, Meretz activists and reporter Feuer left the hall in protest.
It was an observation regarding the widespread crime in the south of Israel that triggered the walkout:
“Whoever tried to hike in the Negev in recent years knows that he cannot leave his car near the small crater, or near one of the streams, because it will definitely be broken into,” Bennett said.
Feuer interpreted that to mean Bennett was impugning the honesty of the country’s Arab citizens in general.
Bennett insisted “that never happened,” it was a libelous distortion, and demanded an apology within 24 hours or expect a lawsuit. The apology did not come, and a suit in Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court for 1 million shekels came on Tuesday morning, citing defamation.
Feuer defended his comment, saying that while it is possible Bennett meant something else, he understood it as a generalization against all Arabs.
“I didn’t write that as a quote, I didn’t put them in quotation marks or put a colon before them. Did I misunderstand? What did I misunderstand? Did everyone misunderstand? This was a reasonable understanding by totally reasonable people,” Feuer wrote. “Don’t play dumb.”
“The lies are over. You will not silence us. I will not let you turn the majority of the nation, which we represent, into racists,” wrote an indignant Bennett. “Yes to criticism, no to lies.”
“We do not hate Arabs. We are for the rule of law in Israel, all of Israel. The ones who suffer most from the lack of law enforcement are the Arabs themselves,” he said, adding that he received dozens of messages and phone calls from Israeli Arabs supporting his call for better law enforcement.
MK Taleb Abu Arrar (UAL), ninth on The Joint List, apparently was not one of them.
“The hatred and incitement against the Arab population has become a stock market for seats [in the Knesset] in the Jewish population, instead of taking care to budget funds for the Arab population that will bridge the gaps,” he stated. Bennett is trying “to cover up [the government’s] failures by passing racist laws against the Arab minority,” he charged.