Let Netanyahu Despair, Not Us

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), wearing a protective face masks, is pictured inside a courtroom at the district court of Jerusalem on May 24, 2020,
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), wearing a protective face masks, is pictured inside a courtroom at the district court of Jerusalem on May 24, 2020, Credit: RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

The late poet Samih al-Qasim asked us not to wait but to start writing ourselves the letters that we hope will come, but never do. Yes, it’s better to delude ourselves into thinking that there’s some great good just around the corner than to drown in melancholy that will paralyze us.

Moreover, there are many things that actually happened that at first looked like illusions, like having a Black president of the United States. It’s the same with regard to a joint Jewish-Arab political party, which will yet emerge from our difficult reality. As it is written in Psalms, “The stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone.”

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I’m writing in response to the survey presented by a “senior official” in Meretz that showed only 0.7 percent of Jews would definitely support a Jewish-Arab list, as well as to the piercing and discouraging essay by Gideon Levy last week (“Only an Arab can lead Israel’s left,” December 3), describing the racist nature of Israeli society.

I am thinking about that survey, but despite the disturbing findings, I am not overcome with despair. On the contrary, the one who ought to be despairing is first of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lives from indictment to indictment, from embarrassment to embarrassment, from crisis to crisis. It seems that instead of suggesting to Netanyahu and his gang of racist associates that they give up and go home, the good people here are offering us a large portion of despair. Well, no thank you.

If you look carefully, it’s the right that ought to despair. Donald Trump, the beacon of hatred and divisiveness, was defeated in the American presidential elections. The right wing here remains orphaned, without a spiritual leader, to the extent that some leading opinion makers, in their frustration, don’t believe the era is over.

The Israeli right is a mess. Other than the butcher from Riyadh, and the human traffickers in the United Arab Emirates (according to the U.S. State Department, as cited by Amalia Rosenblum in Haaretz, November 30), they have no allies. Soon those Arab countries will also turn their backs on Netanyahu, when it becomes clear that he has no influence on the new occupant of the White House.

The situation today is challenging, but the potential for change is great. Before their shocked eyes, good Jews who “just” wanted to include the word “Jewish” in the state’s definition are seeing how this was exploited to pass a racist law that makes it possible to deny a boy from Carmiel a subsidized bus ride because he’s not Jewish.

Protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, Saturday, December 5, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The right is in trouble because it has to pass racist laws to commit sins that previously it could commit freely, without legislation. Israeli society has to confront this racism head on – and isn’t that healthier than hiding behind the words of the Declaration of Independence, which were never upheld and were never intended to be?

Israel is now at a critical juncture, which is why all the misgivings and illnesses are floating to the surface and cannot be ignored. These are the birth pangs of a new order, which inherently involves risks, but also the chance for a better world.

That’s why those who think that Netanyahu’s fall would be just his personal ouster are mistaken. It will be the end of a system, and our criticism of those who want to replace Netanyahu but continue to uphold parts of his doctrine is meant to challenge them to adopt clearer positions on various issues – first and foremost an end to the occupation, the source of all ills.

And please, consider things as a continuum, not as separate episodes. Those who are battling the corruption in the prime minister’s residence will discover that the struggle has to be against the system, not just against Netanyahu himself. Because the person acting brutally against the Balfour Street demonstrators learned his first lesson in the Balata refugee camp in Gaza. There, too, it began with beatings, and look where it’s gotten us.

Despair means only one thing: Either reconcile with what is, or leave. And when one cannot accept what is, and there is nowhere to flee, there’s nothing left but to fight. And it’s healthier if, alongside the fight, we cultivate hope, as poet Mahmoud Darwish suggested: “We do what prisoners do/And what the jobless do/We cultivate hope.”

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