Opinion |

When Viewing the Arabs, Israel’s Left Is Like the Right

Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha
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Protesters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2019.
Protesters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha

We keep hearing the same old tune. There’s a lot of talk about the obstacles in the way of the Israeli left. Everyone who mourns its bitter fate repeatedly falls into the trap set by the right that can be summed up in one tribal word – “Jew” – and all its derivatives.

Even this newspaper, which serves as a platform for voices of the so-called left-wing camp, often falls into the same trap. It’s enough to read two recent editorials to understand the root of the problem that affects all those who call themselves “left” or have pretentions about replacing Israel’s right-wing government.

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“Time to unite the left,” cried the editorial’s headline on June 5. But the piece demonstrates the built-in error in the perceptions of the writer, who expresses thoughts common among claimants to the throne. The writer sees Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to form a right-wing government as a golden opportunity for the “democratic camp” to change the government. This opportunity, according to the piece, “makes it essential for supporters of peace and democracy to unify their ranks ahead of the September 17 election.”

The writer, who favors democracy and peace, preaches well. But it turns out that addressing supporters of democracy and peace is based on ethnic separation. As the editorial puts it, at issue is the fate of two left-wing parties, Meretz and Labor, “which must unite to strengthen the camp that believes in dividing the land ... and in civil liberties.”

It turns out, therefore, that in the writer's opinion, the Arab parties (United Arab List, Balad and Ta’al) and the Arab-Jewish party Hadash aren’t part of the democratic camp, the left-wing camp or the supporters of peace.

As befits the tribal ethnic separation practiced in Israel, the newspaper devotes a separate editorial to each of these parties. “Restore the Joint List,” cried the headline of Haaretz’s June 6 editorial, while mentioning the scathing failure of the “Arab” parties in the recent election. “It would behoove the four parties to set up the Joint List again,” the writer says.

Not only that, he or she demands that the Joint List “present a vision that also includes civilian issues, topped by the war on crime and obtaining building permits,” as if these were separate ethnic issues.

What do these two editorials reveal? It seems that the newspaper, which pretends to present a sane alternative to life in this country, also conducts itself in two parallel universes. It sees two countries separated from each other on an ethnic and racial basis. That’s another bit of proof of the built-in error in the perceptions of the “left,” which repeatedly falls into the same pit that was dug by the right.

Anyone who aspires to lay a foundation for a genuine left must reject this separation. He must break the partitions that separate the country’s citizens on a religious or ethnic basis. Calling on the Arabs to unite around a joint Arab list is like calling on the Jews to run on a joint Jewish list.

Only a party that rejects all the varieties of ultranationalism, both the Zionist and the Arab versions, is the proper alternative in our conflicted country. It’s the one that deserves the votes of the sane citizens – neither an Arab party nor a Jewish party, but a “joint country” party. That’s the only hope.

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