Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and right-wing spokesmen have a simple answer to explain their alliance with Jewish supremacist and extreme rightist Itamar Ben-Gvir: Israeli Arab film director Ibtisam Mara’ana.
From the seventh slot on the Labor list, Mara’ana jumped to first place on the message page of the “Anyone But Bibi” camp. How is this candidate’s name supposed to explain the part played by the prime minister in paving the way for far-right Kahanists to the Knesset? It isn’t. But when the real answer is that Netanyahu will do just about anything to avoid a trial, it’s preferable to go with the diversion tactic of “look at that non-Zionist.”
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Mara’ana’s name is useful for the media outlets too. When Bibi’s people come to the studios they are asked about the surplus-votes agreement with Itamar Ben-Gvir, and when the “Anyone but Bibi” people are interviewed they are asked if they would form a coalition with a party that includes a candidate who doesn’t stand for a moment of silence on Israel’s Memorial Day.
Well, if you insist, let’s compare: In 2010, when Mara’ana started studying film at Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television, Ben-Gvir already had over 40 indictments against him. He was convicted of crimes of disorderly conduct, incitement to racism and support for a terror organization. The truth is that Mara’ana’s criminal record is not clean either: A complaint was lodged against her after she broke into a broadcast in the context of the screenwriters’ protest.
In his most recent interviews, Ben-Gvir presents a moderate facade: He claims he doesn’t hate all the Arabs, and also removed from his wall a picture of mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 gunned down 29 Arab worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. He still proudly supports the transfer of anyone who is not loyal to the state, and only two years ago was still praising Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder and leader of Kach, at commemorative events.
Mara’ana, who has already apologized for some of her statements, is being judged as an extremist not based on the opinions she is promoting today, but because of years-old posts or responses to posts. In one of them she said she continued to drive during the Memorial Day siren, when all activity is supposed to stop, and that the minutes when the highway was empty were wonderful ones.
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The response was mocking and infantile, but after over a decade of social media we should recognize that the younger politicians will have some embarrassing remnants in their internet history. The role of a responsible media is to put things in proportion and to distinguish between old posts and things written in an updated platform, such as: “Otzma Yehudit [Ben-Gvir’s party] will act to remove Israel’s enemies from our country. … The Jewish people have returned to Zion, and Israel’s enemies are returning to their countries of origin.”
Never mind the right, which is taking advantage of Mara’ana, but what about the members of the Labor Party, who hastened to reject her radical opinions because they don’t suit the party of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres? They apparently want the party of Rabin and Peres to remain below the electoral threshold, the minimum 3.25 percent of the electorate required to enter the Knesset, where it was a few weeks ago, until the primaries in which Mara’ana was chosen by thousands of newly registered voters.
Instead of rejecting Mara’ana and apologizing, the members of Labor should ask themselves whether their target audience is more afraid of an Arab woman who doesn’t stand during the siren, or of another Netanyahu government? And something else to remember before they starting firing inside their little tank: If the right didn’t have Mara’ana as an answer to the alliance they have formed with extremist groups, they would have recycled another answer: Balad lawmaker Heba Yazbak.
The writer is a reporter for the “Hamakor” (“The Source”) investigative TV program on Channel 1.