Bennett's Bluff

Bennett needs to decide if he counts Israeli Arabs as Israeli or Palestinians.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“There’s no contradiction between [a] Jewish and democratic [state]. If we don’t receive recognition [of a Jewish state], then the Palestinians will have a state and a half and we’ll have half a state,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has ruled. But something in this mathematical equation doesn’t work out. If we combine all “the territories controlled by Israel,” as the occupied territories are called in the euphemistic words of Israel’s boycott law (which specifies that a lawsuit may be filed against anyone who calls for an economic, cultural or academic boycott against the State of Israel or any area under its control), we get about 5.2 million Arabs (1.65 million Israeli Arabs and about 3.5 million Arabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem).

We won’t take into account the 1.5 million residents of Gaza of course, because Gaza is only being suffocated by Israel, not controlled by it. On the other hand, there are slightly over 6 million Jews in Israel, and about another half a million in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. However we slice the numbers, even if the West Bank is annexed to the Jewish state, there will still be a Jewish majority in the expanded state.

But Bennett’s arithmetical bluff is not the main issue. What is fascinating, and sickening, is the worldview that accompanies this simple calculation. It maintains that Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are an integral part of the Palestinian state, and even if they constitute only 20.6 percent, Bennett considers them “half a state.” They are a hostile enclave which, if we can’t get rid of it, must be enclosed within a territorial ghetto.

But here’s a contradiction: “We have to demonstrate zero tolerance towards the nationalist aspirations of Israeli Arabs,” preaches Bennett. But what do you expect? If Israeli Arabs are “half the state of Palestine,” it’s only natural for them to have “nationalist aspirations.” If, on the other hand, they are Israeli citizens, it’s unacceptable and distorted to treat them like “half of Palestine,” because even according to Bennett, a state that is half Arab is not allowed to demand recognition of its Jewishness. The truth is that even if only four-fifths of it is “Jewish,” a demand by such a state for an absolute Jewish monopoly over its identity is not self-defensive democracy, it’s self-defensive racism.

But logic, like statistics, is not a guiding light for the person who is supposed to understand algorithms, not to mention someone who knows that there already is a Jewish state and a half within the borders of the Promised Land. Because Bennett and his colleagues on the right want to erase from our awareness the rights of Israeli Arabs and their constitutional status as equal to Jewish citizens, and to present them as a pus-filled abscess interfering with the Jewish contiguity of the state.

If Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sees the solution through the eyes of a farmer who is willing to reduce the boundaries of his farm as long as the wild animals stay on the other side, Bennett is proposing a more terrible solution. He wants to make the Arabs in Israel transparent, lacking in identity, with no desires or history - at most a monument to themselves.

“The High Court of Justice, beginning with [former President] Aharon Barak, has consistently been working to change the balance and to empty the state of Jewish significance,” accuses Bennett. This is the same High Court that in 2012 ruled on the issue of the failure to include three Arab communities – Kisra-Samia, Mazraa and Beit Jann – on the list of national priority areas, because “this discrimination is one of the most egregious that exists. Considering its consequences, it suffers from one of the most suspicious distinctions – distinction based on nationality.” In addition to the criminal discrimination, this ruling indicates the invasive culture of Bennettism, which suffuses the government to the point where a High Court ruling was necessary in order to force its hand. But the High Court’s time will also come, we can assume.

Nobody in this government is free of this pollution. Especially not those who wave the flag of equally sharing the burden of army service, and are celebrating their defective victory on this matter. It’s true that the national campfire has added another Jewish minority to the “burden,” to the military melting pot. But not a single minister spoke about equal rights for a fifth of the Jewish state, which has become the supreme criterion for proving that the state is democratic as well as Jewish.

Naftali Bennett speaking at the Knesset.Credit: Emil Salman

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