Once upon a time there lived a king of Israel. King Bibi was his name. He maligned and sidelined his country’s Arab minority, but continued to wear royal garments emblazoned with the words “The only democracy in the Middle East.” He commanded his servants to distribute his divisive and inciting message throughout the realm and turned its unquestioning acceptance into a litmus test for loyalty.
When his spineless opponents saw the masses following their leader without question, they joined them. “No Arabs,” they swore, even though they could clearly see democracy withering in front of their eyes.
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Realizing that his people were a captive audience, the king escalated the tone and pace of his statements. In the past, he found it necessary to apologize for racist utterances such as “Arabs are streaming to the polls in droves,” but with time, he lost any sense of shame and made the torment of Arabs into his main motto.
His eunuchs caught his drift and dropped all pretenses. They no longer felt the need to hide behind euphemisms such as “anti-Zionist parties” or even “Arab parties,” when what they actually meant was every single one of the 1.9 million-strong Muslim and Christian minorities. The single word “Arabs” became a synonym for those who should be excommunicated, if not banished.
The king’s opponents in politics and critics in the media followed in their wake. They were terrified by the term “obstructive bloc with the Arabs,” which they were accused of seeking, and were quick to distance themselves from it, like a disease. They stood at rapt attention, saluted smartly and vowed that such a political construct, a fixture of any parliamentary democracy, was simply beyond the pale. Some were being cynical, but most assumed that the bulk of the public actually believed in the existence of a “democracy without Arabs.” They kept their silence, fearing that dissent would make them stand out and exact a steep price. Psychologists call such a phenomenon “pluralistic ignorance”.
Encouraged by his success, the king no longer made do with instilling his oxymoronic vision among his people. Even though his incitement against a fifth of the population is unparalleled in the democratic world and would be branded as blatant racism, his critics abroad were dismissed and disdained as incapable of comprehending the complexities of his kingdom. If they persisted, the king inspired his supporters abroad to brand them as “anti-Israel” and even “anti-Semites,” to the roaring approval of the crowds. Those who disagreed maintained their silence, and some even volunteered to fight the kingdom’s besmirchers alongside the king’s minions.
Their panicky response was widely seen as confirmation of the king’s message, which only emboldened him further, like a vicious circle. His kingdom lived in a bubble of lies but with a clear conscience, but the reverie was stopped short by a young model, television presenter and Instagram idol named Rotem Sela. As her last name, meaning rock in Hebrew, suggests, she is as hard as a rock. Sela, who was expected to be pretty but keep quiet, broke her mold and suddenly cried out that the king has no clothes. “Even the Arabs – may God protect us – are human beings,” she posted, shaking the kingdom to its core.
The king, along with his chamberlains, eunuchs and social media thugs, pounced on Sela in an effort to nip her protest in the bud and deter others from following in her wake. Word of the turmoil reached far and wide, forcing the king to issue a clarification, which only clarified how right she was. It’s true, he said, the Arabs have no part in our kingdom. Which is why we legislated the nation-state law. Nominally they are indeed citizens, he implied, but in reality, they are doomed to reside in political exile forevermore.
But Sela’s main victims weren’t the king or his gullible fans, but rather his craven and faint-hearted rivals, who do the king’s deeds but seek to be seen as his enlightened alternative. More than his embarrassing nakedness, her piercing cry exposed their hypocrisy and shame.
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