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In Israeli Politics, the Watchword Is: The Jewish Race Before All Else

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he should remain prime minister after the right wing won a majority of 'Jewish votes' in the election, Jerusalem, March 4, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he should remain prime minister after the right wing won a majority of 'Jewish votes' in the election, Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

If the MKs of the “bloc of 62” (Kahol Lavan, Yisrael Beiteinu, Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List) had all been of pure Jewish origin, Benny Gantz would be busy now dividing up the ministerial portfolios. But it was Gantz’s bad luck that nearly a quarter of his bloc were Arabs; the other bloc may have gotten 58 seats, four seats fewer, but the members of that bloc are all kosher Jews.

Benjamin Netanyahu nicely portrayed the racial map in Israel using a blue marker: 58 seats for the “Zionist right,” as he put it, and 47 seats for the “Zionist left.” He simply erased the 15 seats won by the Joint List. The entire political system (except for Labor-Gesher-Meretz) followed along with this racial map.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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It’s true that Netanyahu spoke of Zionists, supposedly as believers in an ideology, but it was clear that he meant Jews; after all, if he had been talking about Zionists, he would have had to deduct from the right-wing bloc the 16 seats won by the ultra-Orthodox, who are anti-Zionist. But in the heat of racial segregation, who’s counting?

The question is, why is this ugliness only now being discovered? It’s because for as long as all those outside the racial pale were on the margins, one could tolerate their presence, or even enjoy it. But when their power started to increase in all areas of life, the right raised its head – and when they began to exercise their democratic power in Jewish society, all the fuses blew.

What? Arabs will decide who will be prime minister? In the United States, African-Americans didn’t only determine who would be president, one of them became president, and there was no earthquake there.

It’s not politically correct nowadays to portray Arabs as an ethnic group to be feared. That’s why the campaign against the Joint List focused on smearing its members as “supporters of terror.” Only them. As if their voters had come from Zimbabwe. But it wasn’t just the Joint List MKs – anyone who associated with them was considered a traitor.

At this opportunity, it’s important to examine what’s going on in the “Zionist left” camp. We see that all three components of Kahol Lavan adopted Netanyahu’s division. First they spoke about a government of the Jewish majority; later they were ashamed, and began speaking about a government of the Zionist majority. Gantz’s slogan, “Israel before all else,” was in fact “The Jewish race before all else.”

That’s why it’s not just Netanyahu; this view is an accurate translation of the ethnic foundation upon which the state was founded. People talk about the Declaration of Independence as a beacon, with its statement “with no distinction by religion, race and gender,” but if there was a chance that even 1 percent of the state’s decisions were to be influenced by Arabs, that sentence would be erased, and the proof is the military regime that was imposed on the Arabs during the state’s early years, despite that refreshing sentence. So long as the Arabs stay locked up in the backyard, slogans about equality and brotherhood will flood the public squares. But actually implement them? You’ve made David Ben-Gurion laugh.

Meanwhile, everyone who’s anyone in Israel and even outside of it keeps telling us what a magician Netanyahu is. What kind of magician? Saeed, the protagonist in the book “The Pessoptimist” by Emile Habibi, would always lose in chess when he played against his father, and he thought his father to be a grandmaster. But his father cooled his enthusiasm when he said, “All my friends beat me, my dear son, it’s just that you’re a dunce.”

Ayman Odeh, head of Israel's predominantly Arab Joint List coalition, distributes election pamphlets in the northern Israeli city of Tayibe, February 21, 2020.Credit: AFP

We would never want to call the prime minister’s rivals insulting names. So let us say only that it’s not Netanyahu, it’s the whole concept. Once there was a brave leader who tried to shatter it, but the three bullets awaiting him when he got off the stage defeated him and the whole campaign.

So what’s the conclusion from this profound op-ed? That the path to change is long and full of potholes. Our role here, similar to that of the “prisoners and the unemployed,” in the poem by Mahmoud Darwish, “is to increase the hope.” The hope, my friends, not the illusion.

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