The One Good Thing to Come Out of the Pro-democracy Rally in Tel Aviv

The opposition party of generals, Kahol Lavan, is learning that without the Arabs it has no chance of generating change

Israelis wore Ottoman-style red fezzes in a rally against possible legislation which could grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution, Tel Aviv, Israel May 25, 2019.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The German philosopher Friedrich Hegel wrote: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history,” or, in the words of Ecclesiates: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” But the nighttime protest in Tel Aviv Saturday night shows that when darkness descends on Israeli democracy, with all its limitations, there is a chance for something new. It also shows that history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, as you can’t step in the same river twice.

The opposition party of generals, Kahol Lavan, is learning that without the Arabs it has no chance of generating change. Even the Arabs and democratic Jewish elements are learning that we must join hands with those who until yesterday were on the other side of the divide. The fatal blow that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to strike on Israeli democracy will bring disaster on everyone, and even the luxury of disagreeing with each other will be taken from us. The challenge ahead is to turn the decree of Arab—Jewish cooperation into a win-win situation.

Meanwhile, some good has already come. For five whole days most of the political discourse ahead of the demonstration revolved around the question of whether MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Hadash-Ta’al party, would or would not address the rally. It was a golden opportunity to get good folks from both peoples to raise their heads and say to the leaders of Kahol-Lavan: Stop burying your head in the sand and stop acting like the Arab proverb “my soul desires you but a pox on you.”

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In the first years of the state, the term “present-absentees” came to describe a situation in which Arabs were citizens of the state but prevented from owning their property. In Kahol Lavan, they wanted “present” Arabs, that is, hands raised in the Knesset to win the premiership, but “absentee” from any political stage. This time, these “present absentees” were present in full force. And for that Kahol- Lavan chairman MK Benny Gantz is to be congratulated for the last minute decision to invite Odeh to speak at the rally, and Odeh is to be congratulated for recognizing the importance of the event and being willing to speak, even if the protest’s slogan “Democratic Defensive Shield” (a spin on the name of the second Intifada military operation “Operation Defensive Shield”), gave the Arabs the chills.

Protesters hold up signs in Tel Aviv on May 25, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

It’s an opportunity to note the role of democratic public opinion in Israel. It turns out that it has enormous power. Why is that? Because it contains an essence of morality, and morality always wins in the end. The heads of Kahol-Lavan realized yesterday their supporters are not stupid and are realizing, more so than their leaders, that understandings must be reached with Arabs and the true Israeli left. The warm welcome Odeh received at the demonstration proved that Kahol-Lavan’s supporters are marching a few steps ahead of their leadership.

Voices in the Arab community will still be heard against Odeh’s participation in the demonstration, but a responsible leader must constantly feel out the field, because the oncoming danger will not pass over the Arabs. If anything, the Arab minority, according to the lessons of history, will be the first to pay the price.