Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is desperately trying to stir up Israeli nationalist sentiment as he finds himself battling re-election, corruption scandals and now a spat with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Imagine being under so much pressure after being charged with corruption publicly before the eyes of your people. Imagine that the allegations that you have robbed your people are so bad (and so credible) that they may affect your chances at re-election next month.

Now imagine frantically scurrying about to try and make the accusatory glances of the people look away from your shameful behaviour and the fact that you took wealth from their pockets and put it into your own. That is the situation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in as the Israeli attorney general prepares to indict him for three separate corruption investigations.

Politicians respond to such character-crippling allegations in a variety of ways. Some resign outright to spare themselves and their parties anymore embarrassment. Others insist on their innocence and fight to prove their case to restore the public’s trust in them. And then you have Netanyahu and his ilk who take the phrase “a good offence is the best defence” too far and decide to openly fling racist remarks casually across the internet to stir up populist Israeli nationalist sentiment.

Shameless populism

On Monday, and weeks after the corruption scandal struck him full-force, Netanyahu came out swinging against Israeli actress Rotem Sela for daring to express that Israeli Arabs should be considered a part of Israel’s social fabric as equal citizens.

Sela’s comments were calling out racist remarks made by Netanyahu ally and culture minister, Miri Regev, who warned that if the ruling Likud were to lose in April’s elections, then parties who are willing to work with Arabs may come to power.

Never one to miss an opportunity to capitalise off creating a scandal, Netanyahu pounced on Sela in a demonstration of carefully calculated racism: “Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.”

Referring to the nation-state law that was passed last year, Netanyahu stated that Israeli law defined the state as the nation-state of the Jewish people which automatically meant that Israel’s large Arab minority who are a fifth of the population and who face horrendous discrimination could never be equal to their Jewish neighbours.

Netanyahu’s remarks came amidst some of the highest tensions in the Holy Land when Israeli authorities sealed the Al Aqsa Compound’s Al Rahma Gate, preventing access to Palestinian Muslim worshippers.

Israeli police then proceeded to make things worse by showing how much disregard they have for the Islamic faith and were filmed arrogantly walking with their boots all over the prayer space Palestinians had created after being prevented from entering Islam’s third holiest site.

These events are in Jerusalem alone and are separate to the ongoing siege of Gaza, the killing of hundreds of Palestinians in the Great March of Return protests, and the gunning down of young girls who were accused of carrying knives.

Erdogan and Netanyahu engage in a fresh spat

Clearly incensed by Netanyahu’s dog-whistle racism and blase approach to stirring up anti-Arab nationalist sentiment, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had obviously picked up on Netanyahu’s attempts to cover up the fallout of his corruption by launching yet another racist attack against Arabs.

Erdogan denounced the Israeli prime minister in a speech, calling him a “thief” and a “tyrant massacring Palestinian children.”

Laughably, Netanyahu responded with a stream of characteristic abuse on Twitter by calling Erdogan a “dictator” and advising him to not “get involved with Jerusalem”, calling the holy city the 3,000-year-old Jewish capital.

He also invented an allegation of a genocide against Kurds that no one in the international community apart from himself could ever believe, particularly considering the rights they enjoy as equal citizens of Turkey – a lesson Netanyahu might apply to Israeli Arabs.

Also, tellingly, Turkish social media erupted in support of their president and his defence of Palestinian rights with the hashtag #WeAreErdogan trending on Twitter. There was no similar reaction from Israeli social media users who are amongst the most active in the world, and it’s no secret as to why that is the case.

Israelis know that the jig is up and Netanyahu is corrupt, and racist to boot. Turkey is often targeted with criticism by Israeli social media, yet this time it was oddly mute as Netanyahu was taken to task by the Turkish president, and likely not for the last time.

It is almost cliche in how often Israel likes to remind the rest of the world that it is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, yet what kind of democracy automatically discriminates against a large proportion of its population merely because they are a different race?

When the prime minister of that “democracy” openly uses shameless populism to appease racist coalition parties and illegal settler populations to score points for the upcoming elections, and to hide the fact that he is about to face one of the most significant corruption indictments in Israeli history, you know that you’re looking at a country that is consumed by anti-Arab sentiment.

Perhaps Netanyahu should save the time he spends on Twitter lecturing about imaginary genocides and attacks against human rights to better focus on defending the corruption charges arrayed against him.

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