Israel’s air force has carried out more than 100 bombing incursions deep inside Syrian territory over the past few years, with little acknowledgement from the Israeli media and without suffering any military or diplomatic repercussions. Early Saturday morning, February 10, this changed.
Iranian forces in Syria launched a drone that penetrated Israeli air space. An Israeli combat helicopter succeeded in downing the drone, after which Israel retaliated with an air sortie into Syria. One of the Israeli jets that took part in this attack was shot down on its way back to base by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. Most Israelis were shocked by what happened, but they shouldn’t have been. This escalation has been building up for a long time.
The Knesset rushed to express its support for the government “during this difficult period.” Even former MK Zehava Galon, the leader of the Zionist Meretz party, tweeted her support for Netanyahu. “Those who claimed Netanyahu wants a war to distract the public from his legal troubles were, she wrote, indulging in conspiracy theories. Netanyahu was a cynic, but he was not evil; he would not arrange for the downing of an Israeli fighter plane in order to divert public attention from his possible indictment on charges of corruption.”
Leading Communist Party of Israel member, Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) is one of public figure who has been saying what many concerned Israeli citizens are thinking. In a series of interviews, she said that Israel bore significant responsibility for the ongoing military escalation. Touma-Sliman warned that Israel’s leaders were playing with fire and endangering us all. Both Jews and Arabs, she said, were afraid of a war that the government and army seemed to want.
At a public event later on Saturday, after the incident was reported, MK Touma-Sliman accused the right-wing Israeli government of purposely escalating military operations against Syria. “With endless violations of Syrian and Lebanese sovereignty, UN resolutions, and ongoing cooperation with extremist group, there is no surprise we find ourselves where we are now,” the Communist lawmaker said.
Touma-Sliman went on to attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally, saying that he and his government would “do anything to distract the public from the police recommendations on Netanyahu’s criminal investigations.” She went on to say that “Netanyahu is willing to bring about a regional war that the residents of the region will pay the price for dearly, simply to ensure his political survival.”
What could be more upsetting to wounded national pride than a female, Communist and Arab member of Knesset, who usually deals with women’s affairs (she is the Chairwomen of the Women Affairs Committee of the Knesset), expressing criticism of the government regarding its military policy? During a live television broadcast Roni Daniel, Israel’s best-known and veteran military affairs reporter, who cites army communiqués without criticism, ordered Touma-Sliman to “sit down and be quiet.”
Attila Shomfalvi, a news presenter for the popular site Ynet, provided viewers with an even more outrageous performance. During an interview with Touma-Sliman, he pointed his finger at the camera and accused the MK from Hadash of applauding approvingly Israel’s enemies and offering support to terrorist states. Shomfalvi’s co-host, Alexandra Lukash, asked Touma-Sliman why she had chosen to comment on national security issues “instead of worrying about connecting Arab villages to water and electricity” — as though Touma-Sliman were the Minister of Infrastructure.
When mainstream Jewish-Israeli journalists are forced to engage with Joint List legislators, they invariably stumble. Their reflex is to deny those elected Arab representatives legitimacy in the eyes of their own constituency, rather than to engage with their arguments. That is why Lukash asked Touma-Suleiman why she was commenting on Israel’s military policy toward Syria rather than worrying about the infrastructure needs of Israel’s Arab-Palestinian citizens.