Opinion

'Just No Arabs' Proves the Last Thing Gantz’s Party Wants Is a 'Progressive' Label

Ayman Odeh, Israeli Arab parliament member and leader of the Joint List, waves to supporters during an election campaign event in the town of Taibeh, Israel, February 21, 2020.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

Who came up with “just no Arabs” as a principle for building governing coalitions?

Why yes to haredim and no to Arabs? Why is United Torah Judaism wooed and the Joint List rejected? If the criteria for entry into society are the creed of Zionism and army service, does that mean the haredim are more Zionist than the Arabs? Do they enlist in greater numbers? If it’s so hard for us with the Joint List, why don’t we just be done with it – who needs them there? Just to be our fig leaf? To justify the shred of democracy that is still barely clinging to our Jewish state?

Maybe we should even remove them entirely from the Jewish and democratic society so all we’ll have left are human rights and equality of the pure and totally kosher? After all, they’ll never be true partners and never take pride in the amazing and terrible blow with which we’ll pulverize Gaza one day. How did it come about that “just no Arabs” is accepted so naturally, even by good and tolerant folks? Whom do we thank for the boycott? Who deserves the accolades? The answer lies in the 72 years of education that instilled the sense of our superiority versus their inferiority, our justice versus their lies.

Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon are all products of this education. To them, the Israeli Arab is a citizen on probation who has to prove his loyalty twice a week. The principles of equality that they believe in do not apply to him. They promise the voter a party free of cooperation with the Arabs and their voter accepts this as something to be taken for granted.

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The voter is a product of the same education. He can cross oceans to experience different cultures but he won’t travel 10 minutes from home to experience the neighboring culture. He knows nothing about it. Only hummus. When there’s a hiatus in the construction work across the street from him, he knows it must be one of their holidays.

He isn’t fond of the political boycott of Arabs but understands and justifies it. He sees it as a tactic, not a principle. He knows what’s what, he reads the map of the political blocs and understands the polls. This is not the time to indulge oneself. It’s just election talk, he says.

But it’s not just talk. It’s the result of a national effort to distance us from the Arabs. And the education system is fundamentally responsible. First it updates the curriculum, then it issues books on coexistence from the recommended list and ultimately cancels the children’s encounters. It’s dangerous with children if they talk and talk and then they become friends. Friendship neutralizes hate and without hate, what motivation will they have, when they become soldiers, to shoot children?

The fact that 20 percent of us have no legitimacy to participate in what affects our fate no longer requires explanation, either. The explanations are known – from “What’s so bad for them here?” to “Our foreign affairs and security are not their business.” Just imagine if the U.S. were to prevent 12 percent of the population from being involved in American foreign and security policy because those things aren’t African Americans’ business.

The “just no Arabs” slogan reflects the false ethos we’ve created for ourselves – that we’re not from around here, that we are “refined Europeans,” so different and so superior that even the Arabic speakers among us refuse to be a bridge between the cultures. They don’t want to be identified with their parents’ culture so they’ve invented their own “Mediterranean” culture.

How did universal values that every enlightened person believes in become “leftist” and unacceptable? Have you ever heard Moshe Ya’alon talk about “tolerance”? Or Lapid talk about “human rights”? Did you ever hear a Likudnik praising “equality”? Kahol Lavan’s leaders are afraid that Bibi will stick the labels of enlightenment and progressiveness on them. That’s the last thing they need. They don’t want to be “enlightened” or “progressive.” Take those labels off of us right now, they insist – that’s not who we are! We want to be like everyone else – racist and nationalist (just without Bibi).

The old familiar racism that has been simmering inside us the whole time won’t be directed only at the Joint List. Racism is racism. Anyone who condescends to Arabs will condescend to others. Anyone who doesn’t believe that all people are equal, believes that there are those who are superior and inferior, that there are Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, and all that’s left to decide is who is up and who is down.