Opinion

The Base Wants Apartheid

The thin veneer that still masks the racist regime in Israel is slowly fading, the recent actions of the government can no longer hide its right-winged agenda

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a news conference at the Martynas Mazvydas National Library in Vilnius, Lithuania, August 24, 2018.
Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo

The Likud ministers, who promoted the nation-state law, who wildly incite others daily against the Arabs, explained this week that if the Arabs only had better leadership – instead of the hooligans who go to the United Nations complaining of racist laws that lower their status – their situation would be much better. Elor Azaria, the “Hebron shooter,” free after serving nine months in prison, told Israel Hayom in a festive interview that he does not regret what he did, once again recounting the tale of the assailant’s bulging jacket and his suspicion of a hidden explosive as the reason for his private initiative to shoot a helpless, wounded man in the head.

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And other tales from this week: The Jerusalem District Court approved the seizing of Palestinian land in the West Bank on the argument that the outpost of Mitzpeh Kramim can be legalized if the land was seized “in good faith.” It was a kind of mistake. Mistakes happen.

What all these events have in common is the thin veneer that still masks the racist regime in Israel. Within the pre-1967 border, the Green Line, it is enshrined mainly in deeply rooted populist norms and incitement by the government, and it goes wild in the twilight zone beyond the Green Line, where it is typified by separate legal systems for Jews and for Arabs.

To hear the Likud ministers, if only the Arabs had leaders who were polite and diligent master sergeants, who cared only about garbage disposal and making hummus, who would be silent wallflowers in the Israeli parliament, then their attempts to rent an apartment in a Jewish neighborhood or go swimming in a pool together with Jews would be received more sympathetically. As if Azaria’s many supporters did not hold the deep-seated, fundamental belief that a Palestinian who did wrong should be killed on the spot, like a stray dog. As if stealing land from Palestinian owners for settlers was not a natural right of the Jewish landlord, but something that happened by accident.

The time for cover-ups and baseless excuses, intended to assuage the conscience, is limited. The veneer is so thin that it can be scratched away with the little finger. Before us are the last days of mumbled excuses and pretense of innocence, because the cat has simply jumped out of the bag.

No rational person should hope for this day, but it is here, right around the corner. And when it comes, in all its destructive ugliness, and in the terrible threat inherent in it – the contemporary, real face of Israel will be exposed as it has been fashioned by the right wing. The Knesset will empty of its Arab representatives, and there will no longer be a need for a court and laws, for the simple reason that any Jew will be able to do what they want with Arabs and their property.

Naftali Bennett burst on the scene in the 2013 elections with the famous “we’re not apologizing” slogan, by which he meant mainly the place of religious Zionism on Israel’s sociopolitical map. But he was on to something, and Benjamin Netanyahu understood that “something” better than Bennett did. Netanyahu understood that his base has neither the need nor the desire for that democratic veneer, for that false pretense of enlightenment and equality. His base is on the beach at Kiryat Haim, where Arabs were attacked with clubs and chains simply because they were Arabs. Indeed, in Netanyahu’s last two terms the space has grown smaller between the authentic will of the base to deny Arabs their rights and the bothersome obligations to maintain the semblance of democratic rule.

One government minister told me recently that the Arabs in Israel usually behave as an exemplary minority, certainly considering the ongoing conflict, and that most of them truly aspire to become part of Israeli society. But that cannot be said publicly, he told me, because in Israel such a statement costs you two or three Knesset seats.

So when Netanyahu is accused of “incitement” and “divisiveness,” from his viewpoint this indicates he is doing the right thing. The base wants apartheid. The base will get it.