Bibi or Tibi?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Bibi or Tibi? Barak or Barakeh? Dov Khenin or Hanin Zuabi? Practically every Jewish Israeli would answer that question with an automatic Pavlovian response, without a moment's hesitation. Of course Bibi, certainly Barak. And even Khenin is better than his fellow MK Zuabi. Why? Because they're Jews.

Their worldview, opinions or even qualifications and performance don't matter one iota. The thought that an Arab citizen could ever lead the state is far beyond the boundaries of any public discourse in Israel. This is understandable, of course, in a state that wants so desperately to be completely Jewish and to ignore the large Arab minority. But it's impossible not to notice this axiom's shrill, disturbing tone. If it's true about the prime minister, it's probably true to a large extent in other aspects of our lives.

Somewhere else, one could and should call it racism. But not here. Here it's simply self-evident, and to hell with the definitions and implications. A black man can be the president of the United States, minority representatives can be elected to any post in many countries, even to head of state in some. Only here is this inconceivable, even in an imaginary peace situation.

The thought of MK Ahmed Tibi or someone like him ever being prime minister is the greatest, most horrible threat hanging over our heads. Worse than the Iranian bomb. This is the ultimate intimidation weapon against all Israeli Jews.

Eldad Yaniv provided an excellent demonstration of this in his op-ed in Haaretz on Tuesday. Under a headline that could only be seen as ironic, "Zionists are not racists," the creator of the "National Left" proved exactly the opposite. Zionists are indeed racists. In his piece, Yaniv threatened that "if we do not leave the territories ... Ahmed Tibi will be prime minister." A man who wants, justly and courageously, to shake the comatose left into action at any cost, in any way, has exposed the unsavory side of all Israeli Jews, both left and right.

Inadvertently, perhaps, Yaniv has proved that even among the Zionist left, it's enough to scratch the surface of the pretty talk about justice and equality to reveal the racism and nationalism. These sentiments prevail there no less than on the right.

Tibi, of course, will never be prime minister here, and it's doubtful whether he'd want to. His heart is with his people, the Palestinians. But the left wing, yes, the left, disqualifies him in advance. This disqualification doesn't stem merely from his opinions. It stems first and foremost from his origin. For even if Tibi supported the Greater Land of Israel and believed that the Israel Defense Forces was the most moral army in the world, even if he were wondrously gifted, he'd still be ineligible, unfit, disqualified forever and in advance. At least the right-wing racists don't hide their racist views. But the (national ) left is tainted with nationalism, too.

Is it even permitted to ask in these parts whether Tibi is more qualified than Bibi? Perhaps as prime minister he'd be less inactive than Benjamin Netanyahu? Perhaps he'd cause Israel less damage? Perhaps he'd bring on us fewer wars and less occupation? Perhaps he'd be more concerned about social justice for all the country's citizens? Perhaps he'd be more liberal than a nationalist Jew? Maybe the election of a minority representative would one day make society more enlightened? Maybe it would send an amazing message to the world and ourselves?

But all these questions are entirely irrelevant. Tibi is an Arab, and an Arab - talented, moderate and even an Israel-lover - would never gain our confidence.

Why? Because he is an Arab. Period. This is true regarding the position of prime minister, and it's true regarding the owner of the garage where we have our car fixed.

So let's all take the masks off. When we say "a Jewish state" we mean a nationalist state. For how else could it be described? Moreover, when we say Jewish state, we are denying the chance that it would ever really be democratic.

Democracy? Only for the Jews in this state. The possibility that an Arab citizen with "equal rights" would ever head Israel frightens us all, including Yaniv, more than anything else.

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