Hate in the Time of Coronavirus

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference addressing measures to counter the coronavirus, Jerusalem, March 14, 2020.
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s obsessive hatred seems like an inverse of the obsessive love of Florentino Ariza, the hero of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Both are over 70. The former fights indefatigably against human brotherhood, the latter fights indefatigably to realize the love of his youth. The former continues, even in old age, to incite with the ardor of youth, while the latter reunites with his love after 50 years with the ardor of his youth. Each encounters an epidemic. The former continues to love even in the shadow of cholera; the latter continues to divide in the shadow of corona.

Israel's coronavirus crisis could be Bibi's swan song. Haaretz weekly podcast

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Life is boring without Florentino, especially in a time of cholera, and dangerous with Netanyahu, especially in a time of corona. For example, here’s one conclusion from this weekend’s two media briefings: Netanyahu, cynically exploiting the coronavirus, continues to sow hatred and race furiously toward destroying Israel’s fragile democracy by rendering its Arab community powerless.

So trust me when I say that Kahol Lavan holds the main key to repulsing this wicked attack. It’s true that the Arab rock provides a firm foundation for repulsing fascism, but a foundation, no matter how strong, is no substitute for an entire building.

“Anyone raised on something will retain it even in old age,” the Arabs say. That’s how it was for Florentino, and that’s how it is for Netanyahu. Regrettably, however, some Kahol Lavan legislators have already fallen into the trap of an emergency government without the Arabs, as the divisive man has proposed. In Israel, this is called Jewish unity; in America, Anglo-Saxon unity and in Germany, Aryan unity.

Therefore, if there’s no determined and appropriate response to Netanyahu’s dangerous plan right now, this very minute, by the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s parliamentary majority, many surprises will be in store for us, of which the postponement of Netanyahu’s trial under cover of darkness is the least. He will continue to divide, and if the coronavirus disappears he has many other plagues in reserve.

Now he has decided to put people infected with coronavirus under digital surveillance. If the experts’ estimates of the infection rate prove correct, more than 20 percent of Israelis will be under surveillance. That, of course, is on top of the other 20 percent – the Arabs – who are under surveillance in any case. Thus in total, it will be at least 40 percent, whether they are supporters of terror (that is, people who vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List) or coronavirus terrorists.

Yet in grassroots Israel, there are actually a lot of people from the tribe of Florentino the lover. Thabet Abu Rass and Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu described an end-of-days scenario in the Israeli daily Maariv – refreshing new coalitions between Arabs and Jews in local governments, including with rightist parties like Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai together with the Arab parties Hadash and Balad; Lod Mayor Yair Revivo, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, with six Arab city council members, all from Balad; Ramle Mayor Michael Vidal of Likud with four Arab council members; Nof Hagalil Mayor Ronen Plot of Likud with Hadash, Balad and the Islamists; Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri of Likud with the Islamists and Hadash; Ma’alot-Tarshiha Mayor Arkady Pomerantz of Yisrael Beiteinu in a coalition that includes Balad.

And on a national level, in the Histadrut Labor Federation there’s a coalition that includes Hadash, Likud, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and Labor. If Florentino were among us, tears of joy would be rolling down his cheeks.

And if all that weren’t enough, it’s important to note that the proportion of Arabs on the front lines of the health system’s war against the coronavirus is far greater than their proportion in the general population. Not only is coexistence already an established fact, but disasters are uniting people because the coronavirus is a bigger enemy than all the rest, separately or together.

All is not lost. On Sunday, Israel’s Arab citizens gave President Reuven Rivlin the votes of 15 Knesset members who are entirely opposed to Netanyahu and his path. What happens next will depend on others. Do they intend to replace him, or to continue his dance of destruction?

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