Netanyahu’s Wooing of Arab Voters Unwittingly Sets an Important Precedent

Carolina Landsmann
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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to a health clinic in Nazareth, January 13, 2021.
Carolina Landsmann

It’s hard to believe that anyone takes anything Benjamin Netanyahu says or does at face value. And regarding his change of attitude toward the Arab community, it’s clear to everyone that he’s not acting in good faith.

His “self-serving electioneering ... was so obvious and unsophisticated that it was embarrassing,” my Haaretz colleague Amira Hass wrote last week. She’s right. And so are MKs Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Heba Yazbak, who raised an outcry over his cynicism and hypocrisy, his self-serving use of Arab voters and contempt for their intelligence.

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What does he think – that Arabs will vote for him after the incitement campaigns he has led against them? After “the Arabs are going to the polls in droves,” “Bibi or Tibi” and “a state within a state,” how is he not embarrassed to solicit their votes? After the nation-state law, how does he dare look them in the eye and say, “Arab citizens should be a full part of Israeli society”?

Center-left legislators who are shocked by his brazenness are also right. After he disqualified them for their willingness to form a government with the support of the Arab lawmakers (“supporters of terror”) and acted as if a government led by three former army chiefs of staff with support from Odeh and Tibi would be treason, now he’s promoting a political alliance with MK Mansour Abbas?

But all the people criticizing Netanyahu are missing the point. All the feelings that his actions provoke in them are part of his political magic. Remember that magic is intended mainly for entertainment.

The surprise, confusion, revulsion, shock and anger – the feeling that you want to tear your hair out in frustration because he’s once again pulling one over on us – are all part of the pleasure Netanyahu offers his audience. Just as when we were children we tried to figure out how illusionist Uri Geller bent that spoon, today we’re on the edge of our seats in the run-up to the election waiting to see how Netanyahu will win Arab votes.

If he succeeds, it will be as if we had watched a magician sawing a woman in half and putting her back together. It doesn’t matter to the people in the audience that this is about Arabs, or that they’re supposed to hate and fear them. The main thing is that the magician succeeded, and nobody figured out what his secret was. All the feelings that his actions provoke make him a legend and will help him sell tickets to his next performance.

The truth is, it doesn’t make any difference what his motive is. And there’s no need to support him, much less vote for him, to be filled with optimism.

After all, if the wall of the delegitimizing of Arab votes is cracked, that would be enough. If, following Netanyahu, other parties begin wooing Arabs and reserving spots for them on their tickets (see Meretz), that would be enough.

If this results in new alliances, commitments to more funding, improved infrastructure, investment in education, support for a plan to end violence, improved status for the Arabic language, or a battle to repeal the nation-state law and progress toward equality, that would be enough. If fear and hatred between Arabs and Jews is reduced, that would be enough.

If we see more Arabs conducting interviews and being interviewed in the media, and more Arabs participating in reality programs, if the satirical television show “Eretz Nehederet” starts lampooning more Arabs, that would be enough.

And as for the fear that Netanyahu, as usual, only intends to use them and throw them away (“this is a temporary love affair,” Tibi warned, “and it will end immediately after the election”), well, so what? Falling victim to one of Netanyahu’s tricks has become the new Israeliness admission test, even more so than serving in the army. Show me anywhere else in the public sphere where there’s complete equality between a former chief of staff and a run-of-the-mill Arab.

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