Column JN issue July 20
It’s rare — in fact, I would acknowledge, probably never — that I feel any sympathy for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But I couldn’t help feeling a tiny twinge of empathy in his direction when learning that, fresh out of hospital last Sunday morning, he had a new problem to add to his mountain of troubles. The name of that problem? Itzik Zarka.
Readers unfamiliar with Zarka may in fact recognise him from the many (many, many, many) pictures he has appeared in alongside leading members of the Likud party. These pictures include one of him with Netanyahu, looking as though he is about to kiss the prime minister’s ear, or at a minimum whisper sweet nothings into it — and Bibi, the most shameless of men, for once actually looks faintly embarrassed.
And didn’t that embarrassment come home to roost at the weekend? For while Bibi was taking some probably much-needed r’n’r in hospital (official reason, dehydration from time spent at the Dead Sea without a hat and not enough water; probable real reason a desperate attempt to avoid the regular Saturday night anti-government demonstrations, whose numbers continue to escalate) — while Bibi was in hospital, Zarka was letting it all rip.
Often viewed as Likud’s personal attack dog, Zarka was filmed at a counter-demonstration to the anti-government protests. And what was he shrieking? “Ashkenazi whores, may you burn in hell, I spit on you. I’m proud of the six million who burned, proud! If only six million more would burn!”
On Sunday morning — perhaps it had been brought to his attention that most of the Likud leadership, including Netanyahu himself, were “Ashkenazi whores” — Zarka apologised, adding that before he spoke he was attacked by protesters and told that Moroccans like him should be “burned”. He called his words “a mistake” and said he took them back and “apologises in all aspects.”
Too little, too late. Even the Likud and some of its coalition partners appeared to be shocked, and despite the apology, Zarka was — at Netanyahu’s behest — officially expelled from the party.
It’s not, as far as I can make out, Zarka’s first rodeo in issuing vile and provocative statements. A separate film shows him commenting on rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, declaring that because the rockets were directed towards the Yad Mordechai kibbutz — which he presumably views as a hotbed of Ashkenazi left-wingers —he “raised a glass, I enjoyed it”.
Personally, I don’t think Zarka’s expulsion from Likud will make the slightest difference. He will probably continue to enjoy warm friendships with ministers whom he has already cultivated, such as Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, all of whom have taken part in videos wishing him a happy birthday.
The hard-of-thinking will make excuses for him, and Bibi will skate over the shockwaves by saying he took immediate steps to exclude Zarka from official membership of Likud.
But so what? That flapping noise we hear is of chickens coming home to roost. If you create a government with members such as Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who combine stupidity and hateful extremism to an alarming extent, it should come as no surprise when the Zarkas of this world feel free to utter the unsayable. Zarka, I guess, will continue to take part in pro-government demonstrations, but this time he will be answerable to no-one.
On second thoughts, I’m not sorry for Netanyahu at all. Serves him — in every sense of the word — right.