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Anti-Netanyahu Protests Miss the Point if They Exclude Arabs

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Police and protesters in Jerusalem, August 29, 2020.
Police and protesters in Jerusalem, August 29, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Abu Shadi, a metalwork contractor, used to prepare coffee for his employees every morning. In his hoarse, thundering voice he would shout to an acquaintance on the work site: “Haim, come straighten out your head” (a literal translation of an Arab expression that means to wake up). Keeping to the regular ritual, and with false naivety, Haim would answer in amazement: Why, Abu Shadi? Is my head crooked? But after a sip of the coffee with cardamom, everyone felt refreshed, and everyone’s head straightened out.

The same Arab coffee with cardamom is urgently needed today, to straighten out the protest that is overflowing with and in Caesarea, and in shifts at junctions and on bridges throughout the country.

In light of the surveys that give the right-wing Yamina party more than double the seats than it received in the most recent election, and after Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn dropped a mini-atom bomb regarding the possibility that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett would reap the fruits of the protest and come to power after the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, veteran journalist Sylvie Keshet wrote on Twitter: “When I read Aluf Benn’s article in Haaretz, ‘,’ which claims that all the demonstrations may be able to take down Bibi, but not the insane right – I was totally depressed.”

The Arabs say: “Thresh and harvest, for Master Butrus.” Well, my heart goes out to the demonstrators on Balfour Street, some of whom have been demonstrating for years against government corruption, and my heart goes out to those who for months have been sleeping on the sidewalks next to the prime minister’s residence, to the young people who come to Jerusalem from all over the country and are exposed to the police violence and right-wing hooligans, and some of whom are led to detention centers and police lock-ups.

And after all that, will win the jackpot? This is the same Bennett who took refuge with the Netanyahu government in order to continue to serve in it, until expelled him in disgrace. This wicked cynicism will happen here again before our astonished eyes.

There’s a saying in Arabic: The revolution is planned by the smart ones, carried out by the brave, and its fruits are plucked by the opportunists. That’s why the present need is to extricate from the jaws of the “hitchhikers.” Without a massive recruitment of Arabs to the protest, it will slowly turn into a testing ground for the spoilers from the right of the political map.

Yes, the Arabs are required to be courageous partners to “straighten out” the protest in the right direction. Arabs have the sensitivity to prevent the protest from trickling into dark and dangerous alleyways – not because they are Arabs, but because they are the most deprived group in the country. And the most deprived, as history teaches, hold the moral compass that keeps a demonstration pure.

Anyone who is concerned about the welfare of the protest must always ask about the opinion of the Arabs, who are the deprived, and to ensure that they are part of the protest and active in planning its path.

And now, I see more and more Arabs participating in the protest. That’s good, but it isn’t sufficient. Where are the divisions of Nazareth, Sakhnin, Tamra, Umm al-Fahm, Rahat, Taibeh, Tira and others? The Arab public leadership, whether in the Knesset, the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, or the committee of local authority leaders, must bring all of its weight to bear on this very important issue: preventing the continuation of Netanyahu’s rule.

Although Netanyahu is an individual, he symbolizes all the evil in the country, and in particular the evil towards the Arabs. Ousting him is the start of the disintegration of the regime of hatred and incitement and exclusion of Arabs.

The Arabs are the “cardamom,” without which the coffee that is gradually cooking around Balfour Street remains tasteless and inauthentic, and one’s head remains crooked after sipping it.