Kahanism is bad for racism. It gives racism a bad name, which it doesn’t have in Israel. It shakes Israeli racism out of its tranquility and correctness, exposes it and generates opposition to it. On the other hand, this opposition is good for respectable racists, allowing people who aren’t all that less racist to be portrayed as moderate and moral — downright champions of human rights.
The influence of the Kahanists on public debate should not be underestimated. Because of them, one can live comfortably in the settlement of Shilo and dare to talk about principles; to be Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich and still be portrayed as moderates; to be in the Labor Party and believe that you are enlightened, and to vote for Kahol Lavan and think you’re a liberal. After all, you’re against Itamar Ben Gvir. It’s the undeclared racists versus the professed ones. Just as the “illegal” outposts have legitimized the “legal” settlements, Kahanism legitimizes this other racism.
Kahanism allows the rest of the racists to feel good; we are not like them, we’re not Ben Gvir; we even walk out of a panel he is on, in protest. What courage, what a role model, what morality. Let us fight Kahanism and our camp will be pure. We will condemn Benzi Gopstein, turn our backs on Michael Ben Ari, and be ethical.
The Kahanists are the cleaners of the national conscience. They cleanse the conscience of the settlers, who, as we know, are determined opponents of apartheid and of granting rights to Jews only; they cleanse the conscience of the Labor Party, the founding father of the occupation, which continues to be a partner to the shameful silence about the siege on the Gaza Strip. They even cleanse the conscience of AIPAC, the ultranationalist organization that forgives Israel everything, but was shocked by the deal with Otzma Yehudit.
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These Israeli neo-Nazis are genuinely repulsive and despicable. There aren’t enough words to describe the disgust they evoke. Anyone who says, “If there were an Arab waiter here, he wouldn’t be serving food but looking for the nearest hospital” is scum. These are violent racists of the lowest kind, rednecks, the white trash of Israel, and they must be ostracized.
But contaminating the debate isn’t the worst damage they wreak. They conceal the other racism, institutionalized and accepted racism, which causes more harm to its victims. To live in a country that imprisons 2 million people and to be shocked by Ben Ari is outrageous. To be part of a society that abuses an additional 2 million people while clicking one’s tongue over a threat to an Arab waiter is arrogance.
Most of the Zionist parties are full partners in the Israeli race project; some even have founding shares. They are partners to the crime — from the ethnic cleansing in 1948, through the military government in the Little Triangle and the Galilee, to the days of military tyranny in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have no moral right to condemn the Kahanists, because sometimes the Kahanists are only saying what the others are thinking.
When Likud, Kahol-Lavan and Labor compete over who can distance themselves from the leprous Arab parties more, how dare they condemn other racists? When these parties liken Otzma Yehudit to the Arab party Balad, even though the difference between them is vast, with one preaching violence and expulsion and the other equality, they have no right to be portrayed as fighting racism.
Of course there are degrees of evil and of racism. Ben Gvir is preferable to Gopstein; perhaps Smotrich is preferable to both. But is this meaningful? Does it render any of them kosher? When Europe boycotts its extreme right — which is, by the way, more moderate than Israel’s non-extreme right — it’s relatively enlightened leaders who are doing so. Here, it’s respectable racists boycotting disreputable racists.
Are Moshe Ya’alon and Benny Gantz, the warriors of Operation Protective Edge, more moderate and humane than Ben Gvir and Gopstein? They are no less brutal and have a lot more blood on their hands, although their language is much more pleasant. But they would never speak that way about an Arab waiter; after all, Gantz eats in Kafr Qasem. So just avoid Ben Gvir the Terrible.