In a Moment of Honesty, Lapid Revealed Israel’s Antidemocratic Essence

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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A demonstration against the Citizenship Law outside the Knesset last month.
A demonstration against the Citizenship Law outside the Knesset last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Yair Lapid decided to speak honestly. “We shouldn’t hide the essence of the Citizenship Law,” he said. “It’s one of the tools aimed at ensuring Israel’s Jewish majority.”

The moment the masks are removed is exciting. Regardless of whether it’s the reality show “The Masked Singer” or the removal of political masks, it’s always exciting to see what someone’s real identity is.

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But honesty is no guarantee of fairness. People can be completely honest about their cruel intentions and their honesty won’t diminish the gravity of their actions. Similarly, a political doctrine can be honest and murderous at the same time.

Lapid’s confession about the Citizenship Law’s demographic essence has no intrinsic value, just as there is no intrinsic value in the discussion on any malicious policy. The “confession” has value only if the one making it also acknowledges the injustice.

Had Lapid concluded from the law’s demographic essence that it should be opposed, he would have deserved praise. Had he broken the silence about Israeli legislators’ cynical use of national security for demographic purposes and warned about the security agencies’ long history of collaboration – their willingness to provide false testimony about security threats to obtain High Court approval of institutionalized discrimination and get the international community to overlook harm to minorities – Lapid’s honesty and courage would have had value.

But his disclosure was a prelude to his support for the law. This means he wasn’t seeking to libel the country, which seeks to block the demographic growth of its Arab minority through discriminatory legislation that deprives some Israelis of rights reserved only for its Jewish citizens.

On the contrary, he’s so at peace with this ultranationalist policy that he sees no reason to conceal it under false security arguments. Without blinking, he admitted that he views a law that discriminates among Israelis based on ethnicity and is aimed at stymieing organic demographic processes in Israel’s Arab minority as a legitimate tool to preserve the country’s Jewish majority.

When Israel pretended that it was acting out of security concerns and lied to the High Court of Justice to secure the bill’s approval, it was at least remaining loyal to democratic standards. When it refused to admit that the law was a tool to manipulate a minority’s demography and invented a security threat, its actions at least reinforced the principle of political equality by seeking to deviate from it on the grounds of an emergency.

Obviously, I’m not in favor of cover-ups; I’m in favor of shame. Israel lied about the law’s demographic essence because it was ashamed of it. This shame was evidence that it realized that the law wasn’t okay.

The lie implied that Israel didn’t want to be like this, it simply had no choice because there was an existential threat, an emergency, an issue of self-defense, and so on. But Lapid is proposing that we abandon the shame.

Removing the security mask means exposing our antidemocratic nakedness. A country that strives to deny a minority any possibility of becoming a majority, whether by force of arms or through the power of the law, isn’t a democracy any more than a country that denies one of its minorities the right to vote or to be elected is. This is exactly what is meant by tyranny of the majority.

In his honesty, Lapid – who chose the name Yesh Atid, meaning “there is a future,” for the party he founded – is setting a new standard of democracy for Jews only. The majority will decide, as long as we’re the majority.

Fortunately for him, the governing coalition lost. Otherwise, we would be seeing him or other government officials at the High Court of Justice defending the state’s right to limit a minority’s growth through legislation in the name of preserving its Jewish majority. Is there a future?

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