Opinion

Israel Needs a Government That Includes the Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox

Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs walking along a street in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn wrote Monday that the candidates to lead the country, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, each represent the hatred of a different minority: “Arab-haters to the right, haters of ultra-Orthodox to the left.” Benn added that while Netanyahu is embracing the ultra-Orthodox – the Haredim – as eternal partners, Gantz is afraid to extend a hand to the Arabs.

The fear of the Arab vote serves the right in general and Netanyahu in particular; he understands that the greatest threat to right-wing rule is this vote, without which the left can’t form a government.

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Gantz must extend his hand to the Arab community. If he doesn’t, Netanyahu will. Nathan Eshel, the fixer at the prime minister’s residence, delivered this message back in June in two op-ed pieces, one in the right-wing weekly Makor Rishon and one in Haaretz. “Israel’s Arabs are the solution, not the problem,” he wrote, and in Haaretz he called out to the right that “we must tie our fate to that of Israel’s Arabs.”

But Gantz must extend his hand to the Haredim too. Remember Netanyahu’s infamous answer when he was asked about the problem of inequality – that if we subtract the Haredim and Arabs from the equation our situation is excellent. We must recover from the fantasy of subtracting the ultra-Orthodox and/or Arabs from Israel, and replace it with a vision of partnership. This isn’t idealism, it’s realpolitik.

The only way to get out of the political dead end is to break the dichotomy at its foundation. If the right says no to the Arabs and the left says no to the Haredim, Gantz must say yes to both of them. This is the only way to create the big bang that will rescue Israel from its impasse. “Benjamin Netanyahu” is just the name of this stalemate, and that’s how it must be treated.

Using Haaretz’s election app you can build your own governing coalition: Gantz’s Kahol Lavan (33) plus the Joint List of Arab parties (13) plus two Haredi parties – Shas (9) and United Torah Judaism (8) – plus Labor-Gesher (6) equals 69 seats in the Knesset. If we add the left-wing Democratic Union then it’s a broad government of 74 seats.

We must stop thinking about the melting pot of Israeli identity as a coercive tool of the shared core, and think about partnership as the Israeli nucleus. President Reuven Rivlin said this in his speech about Israel’s “four main tribes”: the secular, the religious Zionists, the Haredim and the Arabs. Rivlin was wise enough to realize that we must switch from the “conception of majority and minority to a new conception of cooperation between the various communities in Israeli society.”

Gantz, listen carefully to what Rivlin said. It’s not a protest song from a Tel Aviv flower child, it’s a sober look at the country’s future from the mouth of a president who comes from Likud.

One more thing. The right’s insistence on treating the strategic reality in terms of occupation and rejection of the two-state solution has paved the way for the Arab citizens of Israel in their battle for civil rights. Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh as Martin Luther King.

It’s no accident that in recent years they have turned from Israeli Arabs into Palestinian Israelis. The Jews in Israel must realize: Either they acknowledge the occupation and aspire to a two-state solution, or demand ownership of all the territory – and then the Palestinian struggle will focus on equal civil rights on both sides of the Green Line, “one person, one vote.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as Nelson Mandela. And in the future, instead of a stalemate, a castling between the minority and the majority.

No nation-state law will help here. To fix the nation-state law as Gantz wants, it’s not enough for a shrewd lawyer to add an asterisk for the Druze. A political revolution in the way of thinking is required. Odeh’s willingness to join a Gantz government seems to show that he’s ready. Does he have an Israeli partner in Kahol Lavan?