The sights that the Israeli public, including Israeli Arabs, were witness to at the Knesset plenum on Wednesday can only be described as distorted – as if commemorating the victims of the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre were nothing more than about political deal-making and embarrassing the coalition.
Esawi Freige, the Meretz legislator and Kafr Qasem resident, raged against Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, a member of the opposition, because she had introduced a bill officially recognizing the massacre and mandating it be added to the school curriculum, without coordinating with the coalition. Freige accused her and her Joint List colleagues of trying to amass political capital by exploiting the memories of his fellow villagers, including his own family members. But Freige forgot, or chose to ignore, that only a year ago he had raged against those who had opposed a similar bill he introduced when he was in the opposition that won support from just six Jewish lawmakers.
The exchange of verbal blows between Freige and Touma-Sliman and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh made headlines. Video clips of the incident went viral in the Arab community. The absence of Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana from the vote was widely criticized. Meretz MKs Ali Salalha and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi were portrayed as coalition rebels for supporting a law they knew stood no chance of passing and therefore would not subject them to sanctions. The coalition’s United Arab List voted in favor of the law, knowing it was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver of no consequence.
In reality, what happened in the Knesset on Wednesday goes much deeper than a dust-up between Arab lawmakers. Freige and his coalition colleagues can claim however much they want that they are preparing legislation recognizing the Kafr Qasem massacre. But they know their efforts are doomed to failure. The current Knesset and the government headed by Naftali Bennett aren’t ready to take courageous steps. The great majority of Zionist parties don’t support the proposal. It’s enough to look at the results of Wednesday’s vote to understand that reality: 93 MKs voted no, 12 voted yes (11 Arab MKs plus Ofer Cassif).
It is interesting to note that the government was crowing early in the week about the five-year, 30 billion shekels ($9.4 billion) socioeconomic development program for the Arab community using words like “historic” and “revolutionary.” Receiving development budgets and assistance in tackling crime and violence are basic rights in any normal society, but here it was presented as a historic achievement.
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This attitude has always characterized Israeli governments, especially in the last decade. Yes, issues like quotas for how many West Bank Palestinians can work in Israel, allowing goods to enter besieged Gaza or an economic program for the Palestinian citizens of Israel can be debated and discussed. But every plan or proposal with a “national” element to it for the Arab minority is trampled underfoot, regardless of whether the prime minister is David Ben-Gurion, Benjamin Netanyahu or Naftali Bennett.