Opinion

Gantz’s Pathetic Party Condones anti-Arab Racism

Gantz and Yair Lapid at a Kahol Lavan party meeting in Jerusalem. February 7, 2020.
Emil Salman

How persuasive are the racist election ads for Benjamin Netanyahu compared to the last time he won an unequivocal victory, in 2015? What sort of experiences, passions and political needs are being targeted by the videos now flooding the internet?

Racism isn’t a new phenomenon, certainly not racism against Arab citizens, but it was never used as cynically and consistently as Netanyahu has done in the three campaigns over the past year. The helplessness shown by the leaders of Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party in this respect has been pitiful.

The evolution of the poisonous process is clear. We started with “the Arabs,” moved on to the “Joint List” of Arab parties, then on to “Ahmad Tibi,” and for dessert there’s now “Tibi and Balad,” the political party.

But while Netanyahu frightens voters using these racist trigger words, he shakes with fear that the walls of separation between Jews and Arabs are beginning to crack. It’s still not at the stage of the euphoria touched off by the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the trend is clear. So you won’t see Joint List chief Ayman Odeh, a more moderate politician, in any of these election ads.

Two iconic photos have demonstrated Odeh’s strengths to Netanyahu and his advisers; one shows Odeh holding his phone camera in Netanyahu’s face in response to the legislation that sought to put cameras in polling stations and scare away Arab voters. The other was posted by Odeh in response to Netanyahu’s comments about forming a government with the support of Arab lawmakers. The prime minister is seen reading a book to three children above a caption that reads: “At the end of the day you have to put these three existential threats to sleep!” This became one of the most popular tweets of 2019.

And in Kahol Lavan you have three army chiefs plus an experienced politician who haven’t said to the cameras that the inflammatory rhetoric in the Knesset against Arab citizens is intolerable. Despite their strength, these four are afraid to set an agenda clearly rejecting incitement against an ethnic minority as unacceptable behavior. They’ve never even mustered a few simple words against the proposal to lift the citizenship of Arab residents – part of Donald Trump’s peace plan – an idea that Netanyahu himself has already taken off the agenda.

Do they think this is what right-wing voters really want? Do they believe that soft right-wing voters in Israel are a bunch of Kahanists? Do they have a poll showing that to appeal to right-wing voters you have to thwart – as they have done – the establishment of a committee to fight violence in the Arab community?

I’d love to see the wording of such a survey: “Would you like to help the struggle against violence or do you prefer to let the Arabs massacre each other in Umm al-Fahm?

The disappointment with Kahol Lavan, and Gantz as leader, and their failure to challenge Netanyahu’s agenda, just so they can vacuum up some crumbs of voters sick of the prime minister, may not seem so bad to anyone who has understood where this party was at since its establishment. The overdone claim that racism has such a hold over us is depressing.

If Kahol Lavan is trying to address potential voters in their language in order to loosen the stalemate of the political blocs, there’s no choice but to say that the party thinks that keeping silent in the face of racism is the only trap available for ensnaring right-wing voters.

The party has failed to reach the conclusion that Netanyahu reached after last year’s two elections: Jewish Israelis don’t hate the Arabs or fear them nearly enough. Odeh is the popular face of Arab society, so Tibi’s and Balad’s faces are used to depict the Arabs as a society that supports terrorism.

It’s worth reminding Gantz about the day after the election. If the geniuses in his party believe that a partnership with the Joint List is a sure thing, they may be in for a rude awakening.