Kahol Lavan Is Oblivious to Its Own Condescension

A Kahol Lavan party meeting in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2019
Ilan Assayag

The core principle behind Kahol Lavan is official respectability. Kahol Lavan boasts of its members’ integrity. None of its senior figures are suspected of corruption and most of its people are moderate and amiable. None would inflame the public savagely like Benjamin Netanyahu and some of Likud’s other ministers. On the contrary: Benny Gantz focuses on messages of therapeutic unity and reconciliation, which sometimes drown in their own fluid inexplicability.

In their own eyes they are the knights of virtue, who came to rescue Israel from the rule of darkness in which it has been immersed for many years. This is supposed to be the link between Zvi Hauzer and Yael German. But this romantic narrative, as well as the respectability agenda – the message of I am the establishment, I am the state or the sovereign – reflect more than anything their sense of self-importance.

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The great explosion after the interview I had with Yoaz Hendel stemmed not only from the political mincemeat Likud made of him, but also from the gap between these people’s self-image and reality.

They view of themselves not only as the salt of the earth but also, and mainly, as the embodiment of good versus the alternating sons of darkness – good that isn’t tainted by an iota of racism or vice, and which should be learned from and applied in the hope that one day others might also reach their level. They are incapable of understanding that the way they see themselves is the embodiment of condescension and racism.

In the section he released from the “secret recordings” of our conversation in a bid to exonerate himself of suspicion of racism toward Mizrahi people, Hendel says: “I very much hope we can make the ethnic demon disappear. I don’t want to make the ethnic communities disappear. I think there’s beauty in it…I’ don’t ask you what community you belong to, I have no idea and it’s of no interest to me.”

Over years of conversations about this painful issue that still splits Israeli society, I have detected it clearly: Those who almost always find the strength to overcome the ethnic demon – and don’t understand why we should still talk about it – are Ashkenazi people from veteran Israeli families. They are totally ready to put it behind them (but hey, they can still eat mafrum and kube soup, there’s beauty in it).

During Kahol Lavan’s short life we’ve already learned it isn’t at all a left-wing party, as it offers no alternative either to the disgrace of the occupation, as its enthusiasm for Trump’s plan shows, nor does it offer any alternative to the shame of racism toward Arabs, as shown by Gantz’s statement this week ruling out the inclusion of the Joint list in his government.

In contrast to prevalent thinking, Kahol Lavan isn’t only an “anyone but Bibi” party. In a deeper sense it’s a partnership intended to dredge up a yearning and pining for the beautiful Israel of yore, in which characters like Bitan, Amsalem, Ohana and Regev didn’t even dream of being cabinet ministers. The beautiful Israel that was trampled upon and robbed by Likud and Netanyahu. Kahol Lavan is Mapai’s fit young daughter, one of whose jobs is to bury the fruit of the cultural revolution that began in ‘77, with Likud’s rise to power.

It’s frustrating and sad to see Likud headed by a problematic figure like Netanyahu, but those courting his loyal voters must at least respect them, and understand that more than Netanyahu is using them, they are using him. He is their way to obtain domination and power, and more importantly – respect and recognition. Menachem Begin opened Likud to Mizrahi people and Netanyahu, who has reportedly also made racist statements, as has his wife, appointed them as cabinet ministers.

I believe Kahol Lavan has good intentions and a desire to establish something a little better here than a muddy expanse of tribes constantly at each other’s throats. The tragedy is that arrogance and condescension are a most persistent obstacle getting in the way of this intent. For too many people this is a bigger obstacle than Netanyahu.