It was hard not to feel a bit depressed after the decision by the Central Elections Committee to let the Kahanists run for the Knesset while barring Ofer Cassif from Hadash-Ta’al and the whole Balad-United Arab List slate. It’s enough to glance at the names of the people who filed the petition against Cassif.
Who petitioned? It was Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party, the standard-bearers of corruption, whose continued political existence is the true failure of Israel’s law enforcement system, as well as their colleagues Itamar Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben Ari. Before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Ben-Gvir once held up an emblem from the then-prime minister’s car, declaring “we got to his car and we’ll get to him too.” Ben Ari once said: “Anyone who dares speak against a Jew will not live. We won’t expel him or revoke his citizenship. A firing squad will kill him.”
Like the false symmetry of the “extremists on both sides,” this too is outrageous. As Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit put it about Cassif, “It seems that the evidence is not sufficient for his disqualification,” while he wrote about Ben Ari, “He calls for a violent denial of rights of the Arab population .... This shows that there is justification for his disqualification.”
A number of quotes of Cassif were raised in the explanations for his disqualification, including from his interview with me last month. A few of the justifications are tainted with fascist infantilism, like mentioning his desire to change the national anthem to a poem by Shaul Tchernichovsky. And a few are despicably manipulative; for example, the claim that he supports terrorism.
In the interview, Cassif completely ruled out harm to civilians. As for soldiers, he said: “An attack on soldiers is not terrorism. Even [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, in his book about terrorism, explicitly categorizes attacks on soldiers or on the security forces as guerrilla warfare. It’s perfectly legitimate, according to every moral criterion – and, by the way, in international law. At the same time, I am not saying it’s something wonderful, joyful or desirable.”
The petitioners listed a range of invective by Cassif against elected officials on the right such as Lieberman, mentioning Cassif’s comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. This rouses nothing less than contempt in a reality in which cabinet members, including Lieberman when he was in power, consistently describe all elected officials from the Arab community as “terrorists” – without any foundation.
But the important matter that violates the law is the clear position of Cassif and Balad to significantly weaken, if not cancel, the Jewish characteristics of the state. This position aspires to two kinds of state, neither of them Jewish: One is a state of all its citizens, the other is what the Palestinians decide.
Cassif said in the interview that he opposes the Law of Return and is in favor of a right of return for Palestinians. As he put it, what kind of democracy allows someone to move there from Ukraine or Vancouver while denying this to someone else based on national or ethnic origin?
The right wing – except for a few fig leaves that have withered and fallen off – has comfortably settled in the Jewish position. The nation-state law was intended to define – even if only symbolically – the rights of the Jewish majority on this side of the Green Line. And after 50 years of military control over a population without civil rights, along comes the law to legalize land ownership and dispossess this population without a legal impediment.
“A democracy deficit” is how far-right legislator Bezalel Smotrich described his intention to grant citizenship only to Arabs who behave properly in his eyes. If so, bringing Kahanists into the Knesset isn’t just a result of Netanyahu’s political hard times, it’s courtesy. The right wing is leading to a Jewish and undemocratic state.
Who’s running against it? The Zionist left, which is getting entangled in its blue and white garb. It no longer even dares say “two states.”
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