Why Bibi's 'Arabs on Buses' Comment Was Not Racist

Netanyahu meant that there is no one more susceptible to manipulation than the Arab voting public. And this is where the bizzaro Jews that voted for the Arab list come in.

Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer
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Illustration by Eran Wolkowski.
Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer

Some of my best friends are Jews who voted – due to boredom, trendiness, self-pampering or guilt feelings, or all four – for the Arabs’ non-Zionist Joint List, led by Ayman Odeh, which, thanks to this, raked in a handsome number of seats in the election. Allah alone knows what scenario was conjured up by this far-from-small group of Jews who tried to integrate themselves into the Palestinian people and merge with its national aspirations. Did they want Odeh as prime minister? Or defense minister? Or for him to be appointed interior minister and in that capacity to return the 1948 refugees to Ramat Aviv?

My suspicion is that every election campaign in Israel has to have a significant bizarre element. For example, there was once a party of elderly folk that was established by Rafi Eitan and won quite a few seats, and many of those who voted for it were young people – for the same reasons noted above: boredom, trendiness, self-pampering and guilt.

From the perspective of time, it’s clear that was a bizarre vote. It didn’t hurt and it didn’t help. A party arose and later vanished, and what remained of it and of its ilk was mere proof that there’s a large reservoir of bizarreness among the Israeli population that seeks an outlet for its ambitions. And what ambitions do the bizarre population groups harbor? Simply to be allowed to go on being bizarre: namely, to vote for parties they have no business voting for only to prove their bizarreness.

I’m sure, by the way, that those voting for the Joint List were personally affronted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when they heard him urging Likud voters to get out and vote, saying: “The rule of the right is in danger. The Arab voters are moving in droves toward the polling places.”

Droves of Arabs? And what about those of us Jews who are integrating with the Arabs? Aren’t we counted among the people who are endangering the right wing?

The sad answer is: No. Because we can assume that the real Arabs, too – those who voted for the non-Zionist Joint List because they have no other choice by dint of the fact that they are Arabs – are not enthusiastic about the Jews of conscience who suddenly decided, for the fun of it, to be generous and support them.

To what can we compare this phenomenon? To a trade union, let’s say an artists’ union, whose members gave their soul for their art, and now amateur painters, for whom art is a weekend pastime, are joining the union. What’s that all about?

It’s true that in the past, in the good days, there were Israeli communist parties that had Jews and Arabs as members, side by side. But nostalgia, too, my friends, isn’t what it used to be. It’s impossible to go back to those days, simply because the circumstances have changed so much.

Once there was a left-wing ideology, or left-wing ideologies, that united under their wing everyone who believed in them and committed himself to them. These days, to be left-wing is a kind of caprice, a fad, a manifestation of self-indulgence or guilt feelings. There’s no commitment to stay put and not leap over, in the next election, to the next cool party that’s founded, which might be a party of Islamic vegan elderly gays who support polygamy.

One can understand the desire of Jews of conscience to mingle with Arabs in order to do battle against the phenomenon of hatred of Arabs, which appears to be on the rise. The question is whether this is the best way to heal that sickness.

There’s also an opposite course of action, which people barely mention: Instead of entering the Arab political ghetto and entrenching oneself in it against the Zionist state – maybe it would be better to bring about the dismantlement of the Arab political ghetto altogether, and maybe, heaven protect us, expose the pathology and corruption and ineffectuality of that political ghetto.

The truth is that everyone knew exactly what the prime minister meant when he talked about the droves of Arabs going to the polling stations. He meant that there is no one more susceptible to manipulation than the Arab voting public. And that there is something antidemocratic in the manipulations that are used on a public which is known to be easy to fool in this way. And that the blame for the herd mentality lies with that public’s political leadership.

But instead of coping with the facts, people seized on the literal meaning of the words and presented them as an expression of racism.

In any case, given that we’re dealing with people of caprice and not with people of vision, there isn’t the slightest chance that the Jews who infiltrated the ranks of the Joint List’s constituency will change the above-mentioned herd mentality. For them, when all is said and done, the Joint List is a type of exotic possibility, like a forbidden foray into a hummus place in Ramallah, after which one can always return home. That exotic spirit was palpable even before the elections, when a smart-aleck woman pressed Ayman Odeh on the subject of his party’s attitude toward gays and caused him to become embarrassingly evasive. Other wiseguys discovered, alas, that some members of the Joint List are married to two women.

Don’t think this deterred the bizarros from voting. On the contrary: They desired more than ever to cast their ballot for the Joint List, because for them this was an opportunity to fantasize about being able to overcome the cultural disparities between them and the homophobic and polygamous Arabs, by means of both of them fighting shoulder to shoulder against the Zionist enemy.

What they fail to take into account is that maybe they themselves are the Zionist enemy.

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