Opinion |

For Kahol Lavan, All Israeli Arabs Have to Do Is Recognize They Were Wrong All Along

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Kahol Lavan campaign poster in Nazareth, December 6, 2019
Kahol Lavan campaign poster in Nazareth, December 6, 2019Credit: Gil Eliahu
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Benny Gantz made clear in interviews over the weekend that a future Kahol Lavan government will not rely in any way, shape or form on the Joint List, which garnered over 80 percent of Israeli Arab votes in the recent September 2019 elections. Gantz’s adamant position may be a tactical ploy to preserve unity in his ideologically split party and to reassure potential right-wing voters, or it may simply express his true belief.

One way or another, Gantz’s blanket rejection of any collaboration with the Joint List is short-sighted politically, tainted morally and counterproductive for Israel and its future well-being.

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Gantz’s Kahol Lavan colleague Ram Ben Barak, a former deputy chief of Mossad, said last week that the Joint List could be considered a legitimate political partner only if it recognized Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The oath of loyalty to Israel and its laws, which Joint List Knesset members make when they are sworn in, apparently isn’t enough. They have to admit that their forefathers and mothers suffered for nothing, that their national struggle was unjust from the outset, that the Jews were right all along.

The copyright for this type of demand belongs to Benjamin Netanyahu, who injected it into the peace process to ensure its eternal failure. Its use in internal politics is more repugnant, however, because it discriminates against Arabs and might be legitimately viewed as racism. Ultra-Orthodox parties and their spiritual leaders wouldn’t dream of signing on to modern Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. They view Zionism as heresy. But they are nonetheless the object of Kahol Lavan’s desires.

The leaders of Kahol Lavan swear allegiance to an Israel that is equally Jewish and democratic. Nonetheless, while they reject the Joint List, presumably for endangering the “Jewish” part of the equation, they are fervently courting Jewish parties that deny equality, promote Jewish supremacism, deride human rights, ban women from their ranks, dream of theocracy and/or support annexation and the perpetual disenfranchisement of the Palestinians. Even in the so-called “center,” it seems, nationalism trumps democracy.

Benny Gantz at the Knesset, Jerusalem, February 14, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The right’s delegitimization of the Joint List is at least coherent: Its components are hostility towards Arabs in general, an immutable view of the Arab minority as a fifth column, and a preference for Arab-baiting as the instrument of choice to whip up the base and to embarrass political rivals.

To Kahol Lavan’s left, Amir Peretz of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz union has been courting the Arab vote by signaling his acceptance of Joint List support, from the outside and inside. Peretz knows that as a minority fighting for its rights, Israeli Arabs share a common agenda with much of the Israeli left, as is the case with the Democratic Party in the United States, no matter what their core beliefs.

Appearing before an Arab audience on Saturday, Peretz went so far as to compare the so-called “dual loyalty” of Israeli Arabs to that of American Jews who support Israel. Imagine the brouhaha if in the U.S. or any European country, Jewish participation in government was contingent on disavowing Israel; accusations of anti-Semitism would just be the opening salvo.

Ever since the state was established, Israeli leaders have been calling on the Arab minority to integrate into Israeli society and to fight for their own rights rather than those of their brethren beyond the Green Line. 72 years later, the message has finally gotten through: Take us, we’re ready, Arab leaders are saying. And what is the response of the representatives of the vast majority of Israeli Jews? Forget it. We were bluffing.

Gantz’s position means that he views collaboration with the Joint List as a greater danger to Israel than the continuation of Netanyahu’s erosion of Israel’s rule of law and destruction of its democracy. History will record that Israeli Jews rejected their Arab compatriots’ outstretched hand, which won’t prevent them from depicting them as back-stabbing terrorist sympathizers if and when Arab disappointment turns to rage. They are presumed guilty, no matter what.

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