Even when he’s battered and bruised, the prime minister of incitement, Benjamin Netanyahu, continues his work of dividing the country. Tuesday night, after learning that the exit polls predicted he would fail to win the 61 Knesset seats he needs for an immunity government, he stood on the stage at Expo Tel Aviv and continued to delegitimize one-fifth of the Israeli public.
“We will not and cannot have a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties,” he said. “These are parties that reject the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Parties that praise and glorify bloodthirsty terrorists who murder our soldiers, our civilians and our children. It simply can’t happen. It’s inconceivable.”
Netanyahu continues to deliberately conflate the Arab minority’s battle for equality with Palestinian terrorism, as if they were the same thing. This is unbridled incitement and propaganda against Israel’s Arab citizens. And aside from the whiff of nationalism and racism it emits, it serves him as a strategy whose goal is to prevent the center-left bloc from forming a government. Netanyahu is trying to push the button of the so-called nation-state law in his attempt to move entire parties, or parts of parties, into his bloc and thereby set up “a strong government, a stable government, a Zionist government” – in other words, a government of Jewish purity.
In his speech, Netanyahu even argued that “our friend President Trump will soon present his deal of the century, and the way negotiations are conducted with the president will shape Israel’s future for generations.” The message was clear: We don’t want another “Oslo coalition” that relies on Arab votes when negotiations with the Arab enemy are underway.
Netanyahu is feeling pressured, and rightly so. The right-wing bloc he heads has been weakened and his dream of an immunity government has been shelved. Now he’s fighting to undermine the legitimacy of the Arab parties’ Joint List in order to prevent the establishment of a center-left bloc. Consequently, the coming days will be a test for everyone who has said they won’t join forces with Netanyahu.
In the face of the fears with which Netanyahu will deluge his opponents, Benny Gantz and the other leaders of center-left parties will bear responsibility for fighting the delegitimization of Arab Knesset members and the large community they represent. Instead of apologizing, getting confused and acting defensive – and thereby playing into Netanyahu’s hands – they must say, plainly and simply, that Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh is a legitimate partner in any government, that the Joint List is a legitimate party in any governing coalition, and that Arab citizens are entitled to be partners in any administration. Labor-Gesher head Amir Peretz did well on Tuesday when he invited the Arab parties to the negotiating table.
It would be only right and proper for an election that revolved around the question of whether Netanyahu the inciter would remain in power to end up being the election that enabled the necessary historic change that has been too long in coming.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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