My Vanquished General Brothers of Kahol Lavan, It's Time to Talk to Israel's Arabs

Yitzhak Laor
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A Kahol Lavan election campaign poster in Arabic in northern Israel, February 17, 2020.
A Kahol Lavan election campaign poster in Arabic in northern Israel, February 17, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Yitzhak Laor

In the days in which radio and television had primacy in determining the Israeli mindset, several differences between Jews and Arbs were coined. For example, Jews sang “songs of the homeland” (such as Tchernichovsky’s “my land, my birthplace”) whereas Arabs sang inflammatory ultra-nationalist songs (such as “Biladi, Biladi”, my country, my country). These differences have not changed, and with the occupation they’ve even deepened.

In this context we might note how Jews living close to the Gaza border suffer from anxiety, whereas Gazans not only have no victims of anxiety (despite the booms, the planes, the drones and the shelling), we don’t even count their missing limbs on TV, maybe only the dead. That’s the racist structure of the Israeli mindset.

Jews aren’t ultra-nationalists, even if they see their country as “the historical land of the Jewish people,” counting themselves as part of the Jewish nation that lives across the globe. Members of the Balad political party, in this mindset, are “ultra-nationalists,” since they see Israeli Arabs as part of the larger Arab nation.

Members of the center-left Kahol Lavan party, standing behind your generals, think about this equation. Ask yourselves where you stand with regard to this terminology and see what you insist on seeing only among “Bibi voters.” Israeli racism always explains what is “permitted for us” and “forbidden for them”, what is considered suffering when it comes to us, and what they’re not allowed to complain about. From here, the infection spreads, encompassing Likud, Lieberman, Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and other righteous souls.

Netanyahu’s incitement flourished on the very fertile ground of decades-long Jewish ultra-nationalism. Look at the way in which Nitzan Horowitz and Tamar Zandberg from Meretz expelled their Arab colleague Esawi Freige after they finished exploiting him, and you’ll understand the pathetic nature of these dry bones. When Haifa University, which has a very large Arab minority, removed bilingual signs from its premises, liberal senior faculty members, most of whom did not vote Likud, were silent. And what about the nation-state law and its distinction between Druze and Arabs, since we have a “blood alliance” with the Druze community?

And then there is the term “Jewish and democratic” and the other contortions which attempt to bypass the festering wound.

The people who pinned their hopes on Kahol Lavan – and more than one million good citizens did so – erred in at least two ways. First, they made Benjamin Netanyahu the embodiment of all the evil in our lives, and not Likud rule or Israeli colonialism with its hundreds of thousands of settlers. This led to a demonization of Likud voters. The second mistake related to “the morning after a Gantz victory.” If he did win, what exactly was going to happen?

How many disappointed Kahol Lavan voters are capable of understanding that Netanyahu’s incitement (“Gantz will go with Ahmed Tibi”) was effective not only for Likud voters, but primarily, historically, for them, too?

The more than one million Kahol Lavan voters must learn that we can’t get rid of the right without making a pact with Israel’s Arab population and its leaders. This is a lesson in democracy that must now be repeated and learned. The national minority is penetrating Israeli consciousness, as a partner, by virtue of its strength. It’s true that its growing strength is whetting the appetites of Lieberman, Netanyahu and their aides, in their attempt get rid of the Arabs.

But this is precisely what the struggle is all about. A democratic Israel means educating family members, neighbors, colleagues at work and fellow revelers, that the Arab minority, in its entirety, is an ally. Approach it politely, not in order to enjoy its cuisine, but in order to build a different life, devoid of “talking at them.” Talk to them. One day you’ll learn how to talk nicely, generals. The time of disparaging remarks about Arabs is over.