“I want [Mansour] Abbas and the entire Islamic [Movement] list in the party,” said Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh to Army Radio on Thursday. “Netanyahu has managed to divide everyone, now it’s the Joint List’s turn.” Odeh is right. Benjamin Netanyahu is an ace when it comes to dividing and ruling. It seems that few things give him more satisfaction than driving a wedge between people, groups, organizations, parties, even between nations and states.
But it could also be said that Netanyahu has an equal talent in uniting everyone – that is, against him. Who beside him could have brought together a union of three former chiefs of staff, the Yair Lapid bunch, Avigdor Lieberman and the “Russians,” the comrades from Meretz and the entire Arab political arc? What is the “Just not Bibi” camp if not the “Joint List” of his adversaries?
It’s hard to think of a seam running through Israeli society that Netanyahu hasn’t dug his sharpened nails into. In the same breath, one must admit that he wasn’t the one who invented controversies – not in the “Just not Bibi” camp, which he dismantled with delight, and not in the Joint List, which he is currently circling like a wolf seeking his prey.
Odeh is worried about the collapse of his party and the loss of its hefty political power (with 15 Knesset seats), which the representatives of the Arab public obtained by uniting, despite their ideological differences. But disputes were there before the arrival of Netanyahu, and they’ll remain after him. The same applies to the leftist camp: The great confusion among its members allowed Netanyahu to completely break it apart.
We shouldn’t mock the left’s confusion or try to conceal it behind a tall and gentlemanly candidate. It’s a real disorientation, which is also occupying the minds of governments around the world. In Israel, however, it is tightly linked to the Jewish-Arab question. The alternative to Netanyahu broke down due to the inability of some of those who were part of it to form a government that relies on Arab votes. It’s easy to point a finger at lawmakers Orli Levi-Abekasis, Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, who hoisted the flag of opposition to such a move, but honesty demands that we admits that this opposition is also present in Kahol Lavan, Yesh Atid, Labor and certainly in Yisrael Beiteinu. Discussions in Meretz these days also revolve around the issue of Jewish-Arab cooperation.
Mirroring this, the internal debates among Israeli Arabs also ultimately revolve around the issue of cooperating with Jews. It’s true that the Joint List recommended to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz serve as prime minister, but along comes Abbas, saying that when it comes to state and religion, he has more in common with the right than with the left. If he wants the freedom to make political maneuvers regarding LGBTQ issues, does the fact that he’s Arab oblige him to be in the liberal left-wing camp despite his being religious and conservative?
On one hand, we could say that only in a world that’s embraced liberal values could he, as a member of a minority group, garner the sufficient political clout that enables him to deliberate between two camps, which is why he’s actually sawing off the branch he’s sitting on. On the other hand, the ultimate realization of his political power resides in his freedom to choose which camp he belongs to, while representing the values of his voters. This question is relevant not only for the Arab minority, but for any group that has attained political power. Do Jews, women or members of the LGBTQ community have the privilege of being anti-liberal? Is this the true victory of liberalism? Until we receive an answer to that question, I recommend watching last Tuesday’s interview with Abbas on Channel 20, with host Erel Segal. It seems to be the beginning of a wondrous friendship.