Black Flag Over Netanyahu's Reelection

The prime minister's campaign bore hallmarks of Meir Kahane's racist legacy.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon on Election Day, March 17, 2015.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon on Election Day, March 17, 2015.Credit: Reuters
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “greatness” derives from how he has managed to break the Jewish Israeli public’s internal code, namely fear. In racist Europe, the fear threatening the Jewish minority was painfully justified in the face of innumerable pogroms, and above all, the shock of the Holocaust. Netanyahu has known how to use this fear and get elected as a result.

MK Haneen Zoabi casts her ballot in the 2015 election.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

In this week’s Knesset election, the Kahanist Yahad list, a party headed by Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel, a disciple of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, didn’t garner the 3.25% minimum threshold to make it into the Knesset with four seats. But what does it matter, if Kahane’s spirit has wafted across the country’s length and breadth? Who needs four more Kahanist Knesset members if Kahane’s spirit is diffused in every speech delivered by Netanyahu and outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman?

Over the past 20 years we were witness to two faces of Kahane, who himself was assassinated in New York in 1990 – the sophisticated one of 1995 and Kahane the Terrible of 2015. At the beginning of the Kahanist campaign of 1995, the slogan was “Netanyahu is good for the Jews,” an innocent phrase that would pass muster in court, and perhaps as a friendly slap on the back. After all, what would be wrong with a leader doing well by his supporters, when the Arabs who are excluded from the slogan are invisible in any event? In the process, against the odds, Netanyahu was elected prime minister after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

And now, 20 years later, when the entire deck has been scrambled, a new Kahane the Terrible has surfaced in Netanyahu’s own Election Day speech in which he warned that the Arabs were going to the polls “in droves,” transported there by left-wing organizations. So Kahane too was present at the polling stations “in droves,” and tens of thousands of people heeded Netanyahu’s call to turn out and counter the Arab vote.

Elsewhere, where fear doesn’t prevail, such racist statements would be rejected with contempt. Here, however, they blossomed and flourished. And at harvest time, Netanyahu’s Likud party picked up an additional eight Knesset seats.

In the meantime, the hand that Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List of three Arab parties and the Arab-Jewish Hadash party, extended to all of the weak, both Jewish and Arab, has come up empty. In the face of an appeal for unity among all of the country’s weak, we got Netanyahu’s “droves” speech.

And it was the media – yes, the media – that on a daily basis, in every interview with a leader of Joint List, raised questions regarding statements made by Knesset member Haneen Zoabi of the slate. It occurred though the court ruled that what she said was within the bounds of legitimate discourse, even if not easy for members of the Jewish public to hear. If an alien had landed here, he would have surely assumed that Zoabi had been responsible for the killing of 2,200 Gazans and 73 Israelis in last summer’s war.

Now, in summing things up, it can be said that the Arabs have done their part in fulfilling the social contract in saving the country from the jaws of the right wing. They delivered the Joint List’s 13 seats in the incoming Knesset against the right wing on a silver platter. But it is precisely here that those called the left wing stepped into line with Likud. Barely a word was spoken in condemnation of the incitement against Arabs or condemning the fact that the occupation was ignored in the election campaign.

And people also fell into line with Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear issue, even though most of the heads of security agencies expressed views counter to those of the prime minister. And when the issue of Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal undivided capital came up, the chorus on the left nodded their heads in assent. And if the esteemed folks from Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Union fall into line with Likud on every issue, then with such trends, why replace Likud at all?

Among the Arabs, the Joint List made a total shift in relating to Jewish society. Its members declared that they would refuse to play on Lieberman’s turf. They insisted on playing on the turf of the invisible members of society and forge an alliance with them. Is there a Jewish Ayman Odeh who will bring about a comparable change and make clear statements on matters of substance, on what is called “life itself”?

In the interim, in the absence of a courageous version of “life itself,” we are left with Netanyahu’s version, which is full of fear-mongering, incitement and hatred of others. Netanyahu’s re-election this week is imprinted with racism, and there is a black flag aflutter above it.

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