To Replace Netanyahu, Jewish Israelis Need the Arabs

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Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 11, 2020.
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 11, 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

If you desperately try to find some advantage in the left wing’s situation ahead of the coming election, it lies in what there isn’t. With the evaporation of the Labor Party and the split in Kahol Lavan, the field is so ravaged that any new formation can be built on it.

A Kahol Lavan-compatible party that sets replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as its main goal would siphon off those who again will vote against the prime minister without attributing much importance to whom they do vote for. This could be Yesh Atid running together with Ron Huldai’s new party.

To their left there’s only Meretz, in its slim version. Former Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon herself once said that Meretz had come to the end of its way, and some of its veterans have been trying for some time to set up a Jewish-Arab party in a new wrapping. But it may not yet be time to mourn this party, which shows a certain resilience.

Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz is counting on former Labor voters and the liberal anti-religion Arabs, who should be enough to keep the party’s dwindled size, more or less.

This brings us to the most interesting population, which wields the greatest power to influence the election results: the Arab community. The cooperation between the Islamic Movement’s chairman Mansour Abbas and Netanyahu has caused turmoil in the Joint List – which is Netanyahu’s intention – and yet, it reflects a certain sentiment within Arab society.

The Islamic Movement doesn’t have the slightest interest in the occupation or the Palestinian national rhetoric, which to a large extent guides the Joint List’s leaders. It is interested in obtaining resources and bolstering its political power.

Some see these aspirations as submission to the oppressive regime, under whose auspices the Arabs must abandon their national determination for another garbage can or paved road. Some believe, as the Arab lawmakers themselves say sometimes, that the connection with the right is more authentic culturally, and perhaps historically as well.

If Ahmad Tibi, not to mention the United Arab List, claim that the Labor Party and its predecessor, Mapai, are responsible for the worst crimes against the Palestinian people – i.e. the Nakba in 1948 and the occupation in 1967 – what’s their problem with Mansour Abbas?

The Islamic Movement also has tangential lines with the right: the religious sentiment and the abhorrence of progressivism. Abbas or members of his faction can totally agree with Bezalel Smotrich’s views on the LGBTQ community, for example.

Kahol Lavan’s cowardice in not daring to rely on the Joint List’s votes to topple Netanyahu ratified the Arabs’ despair and drove some of them to wheel and deal with the eternal landlord, Netanyahu. In fact, if Netanyahu wasn’t regularly uttering racist statements against the Arabs, we’d find many more Arabs voting for Likud.

But now we come to the core of the issue, which shows why Abbas is presumably wrong in reading the situation after all, apart from the fact that it’s impossible to do business with Netanyahu (because after the handshake you discover some of your fingers are missing).

It’s no accident that Netanyahu launches a racist intimidation campaign against the Arab voters and their representatives. The right-wing operating system is based on the inferiority of the Arabs, on the deep fear of them and on fixating on their status – even if according to the right, they’ll be granted full civil rights – as guests in this country. Just look at the nation-state law, the pride of the rightist legislation in recent years.

Do people in the center left think – and more importantly – behave differently? That’s a separate issue. Without the Arabs, there will never be a regime change here, and the center-left doesn’t have the privilege of losing some of them to the man who incites most viciously against them, of all people.

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