Note to Leftists Who Voted Kahol Lavan

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Kahol Lavan lawmakers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel in the Knesset.

In October 1906, Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin presented to Tsar Nicholas II a proposal by the Council of Ministers to annul certain legal restrictions that were particularly onerous for the country’s Jews. He argued that the restrictions were seriously harming the empire both domestically (exacerbating revolutionary ferment among Jews) and internationally (as a pretext for a forceful anti-Russian protest by Jewish tycoons in the West). Stolypin’s proposal sat on the tsar’s desk for two months.

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On December 10, it was sent back with a terse rejection letter. Admitting that the ministers had made a convincing case, the tsar explained: “An inner voice keeps insisting more and more that I do not take this decision upon myself. So far, my conscience has not deceived me. Therefore, I intend in this case also to follow its dictates. ...”

As Raviv Drucker wrote last week (Haaretz, May 28), Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, the most prominent rightists in Kahol Lavan, privately offer political explanations for their absence from the opposition demonstration in Tel Aviv due to the inclusion of Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh among the speakers, saying it’s not possible to recruit others from the right to the cause if Odeh is on stage. Yet such tactical considerations are not sufficient to explain Hendel and Hauser’s discomfort with the participation of a representative of Palestinian Israeli citizens in a protest by the Israeli center and left. It was, above all, their “inner voice” that made them unable to bear the presence of a Palestinian Israeli in Israel’s public political sphere – just as Nicholas II’s inner voice instructed him in 1906 to continue excluding Russian Jews from Russia’s social and political spheres.

Presumably, just as the last of the Russian tsars recognized the logic, wisdom and justice of his ministers, who sought to ameliorate conditions for the Jews, Hendel and Hauser also rationally understand what Drucker tries to explain to them in his piece – that “the idea that it’s possible to raise a powerful civil protest that will endure for months, without including all of the opposition parties, including the Arab parties, is not a smart idea, to put it mildly.”

Problem is, inner voices of the sort that Nicholas II professed to have heeded in 1906 regarding the rightful place of Jews in Russia, and that, without admitting as much, Hendel and Hauser are listening to regarding the rightful place of Palestinian citizens in the Jewish state, have nothing to do with rational explanations. On the contrary, in both cases these voices spring from the deepest realms of theological irrationalism: The Russian state, with the Russian Orthodox theology of the Russian tsars, simply could not accept the Jewish “other”; and in the theological conceptions of the nationalist ideological Jewish right, as exemplified by Hauser and Hendel, it is inconceivable for the Jewish state to share with the Palestinian Arab “other” its fundamental civic experience.

Presumably, too, neither Hendel nor Hauser, nor any of those Likud supporters who, according to Moshe Ya’alon, were on their way to the demonstration and turned around when they heard that Ayman Odeh was going to speak there, would have stayed away had someone like Dima Tayeh, the Arab candidate in the Likud primaries, who made the (totally legitimate, of course) choice to abandon her Palestinian-Arab identity and pledge allegiance to the oppressive version of Zionism that prevails today, had been speaking instead. Nicholas II and the Russian Orthodox religious zealots in Tsarist Russia also had no trouble including in political and public life people who (also quite legitimately) decided to convert to Christianity.

And yet, just as most of the Jews in Tsarist Russia refused to convert, most of the Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel, including Odeh, are not eager to convert their national identity. And while it’s clear that the Arab elected officials in Israel are not an undifferentiated bloc – as evidenced by the multitude of Arab parties – all share the demand for full civic equality for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens, with the recognition that this equality is only possible if their collective national identity is accorded full legitimacy. But the inner voice of the theological nationalist right is absolutely unwilling to agree to this, for in its eyes only one, chosen people deserves national rights from the river to the sea – the Jewish people. Thus, one can guess that both Hendel and Hauser would immediately answer yes to the question that Drucker poses at the conclusion of his piece – “Is Odeh’s appearance at the side [of Hendel and Hauser] so unthinkable that it’s worth creating the first rift [in Kahol Lavan]?

But what about the “first rift”? Without doubting Drucker’s excellent analytic talents, in my humble opinion it’s slight overreach to see the boycotting by Kahol Lavan’s ideological rightists of a protest that includes Odeh as heralding a rift in the party. So far we haven’t heard the party’s leaders, who are considered centrists, voicing the slightest criticism of their more right-wing comrades’ demonstrative denial of “the other.” Apparently Benny Gantz, and all the more so Yair Lapid (who railed in the past about “Zoabis”) have no trouble at all living with this sort of contemptible behavior.

In light of this – and in view of the upcoming election – all of those leftists who in the last election voted for Kahol Lavan with a heavy heart need to come to grips with the fact that the theological-nationalist inner voice that prevented Hendel and Hauser from sharing the stage with an elected representative of Palestinian Israelis is the true inner voice of Kahol Lavan, which the party heads sought to obscure in order to attract as many voters from the left as possible.

We mustn’t close our ears to the sound of this voice. Rather, we should listen closely to all of its abhorrent racial intonations, and stay far away from this party, just as two of its members stayed away from the protest in Tel Aviv.

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