Like a wound that doesn’t heal, a rock from which water refuses to gush, so too Israel’s obsession with Haneen Zoabi refuses to wane.
On the face of it, Haim Etgar’s interview with her on Channel 2's “Anashim” (“People We Talk About”) on Sunday evening was much friendlier and more conciliatory than the one he did a few years ago with the controversial Balad Knesset member, after she took part in the 2010 flotilla to the Gaza Strip, aboard the Mavi Marmara. This time around Etgar himself showed a few clips from that interview — not to show how hostile and judgmental he had been toward Zoabi, rather to show that “she has not changed.” She nearly destroyed the interview then, and nearly destroyed the interview now.
Sunday’s interview came at a good time for Zoabi. Despite her repeated persecution by the political establishment and the fact that there are a fair number of people who would be willing to strangle her with their bare hands – the High Court of Justice has ruled that there are no grounds for disqualifying her bid to run in the upcoming election, thus preserving the semblance of a democracy in Israel.
Nevertheless, Etgar chose not to challenge the conventional attitude toward Zoabi. In her case, anything goes. The promos for the program declared that the MK “neither regrets nor apologizes” for her past behavior and comments.
Etgar opened on the offensive: “What has changed since the last interview?” “The incitement continues, the siege [on the Gaza Strip] continues, the occupation continues,” Zoabi answered.
“I wonder," Etgar continued, "didn’t you become more moderate, didn’t you think to tone down your remarks?”
“No,” Zoabi retorted.
“You are provocative, you encourage the radicalization of [Israeli] Arab society,” Etgar challenged.
Zoabi stood her ground: “This is a dialogue of the deaf.”
“Your remarks are very infuriating and hurtful to the Jewish public,” Etgar persisted.
Finally, the penny dropped: “Maybe it’s too easy to categorize and even to hate Zoabi. Behind the character, as always, there is also a human being,” Etgar explained, as if discovering the secret of the universe.
Or, in other words, why try to wring an apology out of her? Why take the route of confrontation if it is simpler to take the opposite, and infinitely more effective, tack: to minimize, to reduce, perhaps even to flirt? To put on a little Arab music in the background, add a few pretty images of the souk in Nazareth, and bring her back to her childhood home. All as a preliminary to the unavoidable question: Why aren’t you married? And Zoabi, very regrettably, cooperated.
When you know that everyone thinks you’re a witch, it’s hard to resist the temptation to be seen as a human being, in the hope of being able to avoid the float test.
Zoabi excels at driving the Jews nuts. But the temptation to keep coming back to beat the voodoo doll that refuses to disappear is great. Apologize already, be regretful, be sorry, squeeze out a tear. If not that, then at least get married, show that you’re a real woman. The leech known as public opinion will not leave you alone until you prove that they’re right and you’re wrong.
It’s hard to beat chauvinism and latent racism. It doesn’t matter how many flotillas Zoabi sails on, how many cops she tangles with and how many controversial statements she makes – what really pisses off those who watch her from the outside is the fact that on top of all the other troubles, there is no man controlling her.
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