Opinion

Blue and White Blood in Israeli Election

The problem is that 'opposition' candidates Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and generations of Israelis suckled an outsized fear of anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk

File photo: Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid in a political event in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 21, 2019.
Amir Cohen/Reuters

“They’re relying on a bloc of the Arab parties that are working to destroy the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says repeatedly, and by “they” he means the heads of Kahol Lavan, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Netanyahu explains to voters that they have to choose between “a new and weak leftist government headed by Lapid and Gantz, with an obstructive bloc of Arab parties” and a “strong right-wing government” headed by him.

Netanyahu mocks the sick logic of his political rivals who are furious over Likud’s joining forces with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit (Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir), but who have no problem joining forces with the Arabs.

“A right-wing Zionist bloc isn’t allowed, but a bloc of Arab parties working to destroy the State of Israel is legitimate,” he said of them. In a choice between a Jewish Kahanist and an Arab who dreams of a state of all its citizens, Netanyahu chooses a Kahanist without batting an eye.

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The Central Elections Committee that approved the candidacy of Kahanists Ben Ari and Ben-Gvir and disqualified the Balad-United Arab List roster and Ofer Cassif, a candidate for the Hadash-Ta’al list, acted according to that exact same logic.

Anyone who saw the familiarity with which Ben-Gvir was received when he went to the podium at the elections committee meeting, where he defended the petition to disqualify the Arab Knesset roster, could not help but reach the bitter conclusion that what the Jewish members of the committee have in common with Ben-Gvir is greater than their differences. The ideological gaps, the objections to actions or statements are all a drop in the ocean compared to the feeling of togetherness of those who belong to that “great Jewish family.”

Like in November 1995, just as Netanyahu was caught on camera saying “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jews, they think that they’ll put our security in the hands of Arabs,” and like “the Arabs are streaming in droves to the polling stations, the left is bringing them in buses,” at the 11th hour, Netanyahu always cuts reality into two parts: Jews and Arabs. Then he puts the left on the Arab side.

And how are Gantz and Lapid dealing with these claims? “I’ll make it simple. We won’t make a bloc with the Arabs, period” (Lapid), and “[I] don’t make any bloc with the Arabs. Because we’ll win. What is a bloc with the Arabs?” (Gantz).

This week representatives of Yesh Atid joined the coalition and supported the disqualification of Balad-UAL. We remember Lapid’s statement in 2013: “We won’t make a bloc with Haneen Zoabis,” a reference to Balad MK Haneen Zoabi.

Last month, acting Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz sparked a crisis with Poland when he quoted former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who said, “Poles suckled anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”

The problem is that Gantz, Lapid and generations of Israelis suckled an outsized fear of anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk. For too many Israelis, the thought of organically changing the character of the state, which is determined democratically by its citizens, is like undermining Israel’s physical existence. Anyone who feels this way is denying the healthy development of the Israeli nation and holding on fearfully to the Jewish nation, regardless of the costs to the country’s civil fabric.

Those who feel that way will certainly consider Ben-Gvir a lesser threat to Israel’s future than an Arab party running for Knesset that calls for civil equality, perish the thought.

I don’t know whether Gantz and Lapid’s strategy will lead to victory in the election. I fear that it’s not strategy that leads them to make such statements, but something more intimate. If they don’t awaken from the anti-Semitic nightmare that under Netanyahu’s pathological leadership has become a dream of Jewish supremacy, they will face a defeat that goes beyond the election and threatens the future of the State of Israel as a democratic country.