Last week I was sitting with a girlfriend at a café in Tel Aviv. We were speaking Arabic. At some point, a nice woman with a dog who was sitting opposite us opened her eyes wide. She was evidently waiting for a pause in our conversation to say something important to “representatives of the community.”
Indeed, the moment we stopped talking to check messages on our phones, she took the opportunity and asked: “So, what do you two think about the new government? Are you happy? Don’t you think it’s a good thing?” And added, as though to convince us: “The important thing is that they’re finally a part of the government, even if they’re religious.”
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She is from Tel Aviv and votes left, she later told us. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had I congratulated her if Shas, United Torah Judaism or Bezalel Smotrich’s party had assembled the coalition. “So what do you think about the new government?” I would have asked her. “You must be happy. Don’t you think it’s a good thing? The important thing is that they’re finally a part of the government, even if they’re religious.”
Here’s the thing. Even to this well-informed, enlightened left, we are all the same. We are all “Arabs.” What differences could there be between us? Why be petty about it? Why be a party pooper? There is a government with Arabs now, so yallah, let’s have a hafla and celebrate!
Well, no, I am not happy about the government that was just formed, both because my ultimate goal was never just “to oust Bibi” and because the new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, supports the settlement project, and Gideon Saar, who helped forge the coalition, is an advocate of the Greater Land of Israel. In the long term they could be worse for the Arab citizens and the Palestinians than Netanyahu was.
But mainly, I am not happy because the United Arab List, the vessel of these supposedly good tidings, is a conservative, religious party. The UAL opposes freedom of the individual in all aspects, including women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. It is a party that would like the state to be run according to Islamic law, and is therefore willing to forgo the Palestinian national story in return for civic benefits.
So the whoops of delight from the center-left about the super-exciting coalition between the conservative-Jewish right and Islamic religious conservatism are a little silly. It’s nice to congratulate the UAL for its pragmatism and courage in integrating into that imagined version of Israeli-ness, but where was the courage and pragmatism of that same center-left camp when the Joint List of Arab parties, with its 15 Knesset seats, could have been brought in, to possibly create a genuine government of change? Where were the democratic camp and the Israeli left then?
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Although it seems like ancient history already, we should remember that the UAL’s “achievement” would not have been achieved if it weren’t for the courage of the Joint List, primarily its constituent party Hadash, which recommended to the president that Benny Gantz be given the mandate to form the government, before Gantz chickened out and fled to the embrace of the Netanyahu government. This move subsequently led to a weakening of the secular Arab parties and strengthened the southern branch of the Islamic Movement.
How surreal: The Jewish center-left weakened the Arab left, while the Jewish right is now strengthening the Arab right. But, at least the lady sitting across from us at the café is happy.