Yair Lapid’s new career as leader of the second-largest party in the Knesset has gotten off on the wrong foot. Rather than waiting for the official election results, Lapid rejected the possibility up front of joining forces with other parties to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the next government. Referring to MK Hanin Zuabi of the Arab party Balad, Lapid declared that he would “not join a blocking majority with Hanin Zuabis.”
But though the Yesh Atid leader gave up in advance on any attempt to prevent the right from forming the next government, the explanation he gave for this move, and the way in which he expressed himself, were particularly harmful.
Lapid referred to “Hanin Zuabis” as if Zuabi stood for all of the Arab community’s elected representatives. More than anything, this showed a kind of crude contempt, mixed with a whiff of racism, for those whom Lapid does not consider part of his political camp. Zuabi was duly elected to the Knesset by Israeli voters who supported her party.
By rejecting her out of hand as a partner to any kind of political activity, Lapid joined those responsible for the dangerous trend of excluding Arabs from the Israeli political process. Zuabi, like any other legislator, is a legitimate partner. Through his comment, Lapid, just like the extreme right wing, contributed to the delegitimization of Zuabi and her Arab Knesset colleagues.
Their exclusion is a nationalist, undemocratic move that cannot be squared with Lapid’s call for an “equal sharing of the burden” (an expression that generally refers to military or civilian national service). For anyone who is unwilling to accept members of a particular group as partners cannot then accuse them of failing to bear their share of the burden. This also increases the alienation that Israeli Arabs feel toward the state.
On the eve of the election, Israel’s Arabs were urged to turn out and vote. Thankfully, most of them did, and the dangerous trend of their boycotting the polls has been halted. Then along came Lapid and showed that their participation in the election was for naught, because their representatives are not considered legitimate, even in the view of the new Knesset’s largest centrist party.
The mental block is actually Lapid’s. He cannot conceive of a partnership with an Arab party even on an issue as fateful as heading off the formation of a right-wing government. Lapid could have said that in his view, there is no realistic prospect of forming such a blocking majority. But attributing his stance to his opposition to partnering with Zuabi emits a nationalist stench.