Editorial |

David Bitan Is Speaking for Netanyahu

Asked about Netanyahu's Election Day plea to his supporters to vote en masse because 'Arabs are flocking to the polls,' the coalition chairman responded with a new political doctrine. Now it's time for Netanyahu to clarify his own position.

Haaretz Editorial
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Coalition whip David Bitan says he prefers Israel's Arab citizens not vote in the national election. Is he speaking Netanyahu's voice?
Credit: Amos Biderman
Haaretz Editorial

Coalition Chairman David Bitan is not a happy man. The Knesset member explained his unhappiness over the weekend at a Shabbat Tarbut event in Mevasseret Zion. When asked about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day plea to his supporters to vote en masse because “the Arabs are flocking to the polls,” Bitan responded not only with pure racism, but with a new political doctrine. He would prefer “that Arabs not flock to the polls and not come to the polls at all. Ninety-five percent of them vote for the Joint List, which doesn’t represent Israeli Arabs, but Palestinian interests.”

The fact that Israeli Arabs have the right to vote makes Bitan miserable. And since he is the prime minister’s mouthpiece, it’s reasonable to conclude that his statement accurately reflects Netanyahu’s wishes, especially given the latter’s own statement on Election Day.

Moreover, Bitan’s statement is liable to have practical implications, because experience teaches that the dearest wishes of the extreme right quickly turn into bills, and then into laws that pound vainly on the door of the High Court of Justice because of their unconstitutionality, until some other shameful wording is found for them that is capable of crossing the court’s threshold.

Bitan’s expressed hopes are something new, but they merely illuminate his ignorance of democratic rules – or else, regrettably, his racist views. Bitan reflects a desire for what could be termed political transfer. Just as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presents “territorial exchanges” – that is, the physical transfer of Arab Israelis to the Palestinian Authority by means of handing their towns over to the PA – as a condition for negotiations, Bitan seeks to put Arab Israelis beyond the pale of citizenship. But this time, it isn’t because they allegedly seek to destroy the State of Israel; it’s simply because most Arabs vote for the Joint List, which he claims doesn’t represent their interests.

To Bitan’s credit, it must be said that he doesn’t get bothered by the contradictions and inconsistencies that bestrew his arguments. If he were really concerned over the Joint List’s failure to help its voters, he would be trying to get Israeli Arabs to vote in droves for his own Likud party. But neither his party nor the government headed by his master has any intention of wooing Israeli Arabs. The government’s plan to spend billions to build economic infrastructure for Israeli Arabs is a necessary step after years of neglect, but it isn’t enough, given that at the same time, ministers and Knesset members are spewing incitement and insults at them.

The prime minister must now clarify his own position and that of his party toward the civil rights of a fifth of Israel’s population. Bitan isn’t a village idiot behind whom Netanyahu can hide; he’s the coalition chairman. All Israeli citizens, and not just the Jewish ones, must be confident of the status of their citizenship.

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