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Bennett's Government Does What Kahanist Leader Ben-Gvir Screams About

Aida Touma-Sliman
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Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir at the Knesset earlier this month.
Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir at the Knesset earlier this month.Credit: Emil Salman
Aida Touma-Sliman

Many people in the “Zionist left” and the Arab right (that is, the United Arab List) believe the “government of change” is a necessity: if not their pride and joy, then at least the lesser evil. True, it is based on the lowest common denominator, which can be summed up as “anyone but Bibi,” but they argue fervently that if not for it, Benjamin Netanyahu and Itamar Ben-Gvir would be in power. The problem is that while fearmongering over the alternative, the Bennett-Lapid government – with the support of the Labor Party and Meretz – is actually doing what Ben-Gvir only screams about.

According to data from B’Tselem, in the “change government”’s year in power, 102 Palestinians were killed by Israeli police, soldiers or civilians and Israel razed at least 580 structures in the occupied territories. According to Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, 640 Palestinians are currently in so-called administrative detention, jailed without trial. Figures from Peace Now show that since the government was formed in June 2021, it has advanced plans to build 7,292 housing units in the settlements and issued requests for proposals for an additional 1,550. According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, in the second half of 2021, the period immediately following the government’s establishment, housing starts in the settlements increased 43 percent from the first half of the year.

It was a lawmaker and cabinet member of the “moderate” Labor Party, Omer Bar-Lev, who approved this year’s Jerusalem Flag March, which included violence against Palestinians and chants of “death to Arabs.” Bar-Lev says he supports the two-state solution, but that did not stop him from authorizing an ultranationalist march of incitement – which he disingenuously called “a tradition of many years” – so as not to “undermine the legitimacy and erode the sovereignty” of Israel in occupied East Jerusalem.

Bar-Lev, the minister of public security, is also responsible for the Israel Police, whose officers in Jerusalem brutally assaulted the pallbearers of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, on the grounds that they were carrying Palestinian flags: a “trailer” for the collective anxiety attack of this nuclear power (according to foreign sources) after the progressive digital movement Mehazkim hung a Palestinian flag alongside an Israeli flag on a Ramat Gan office building with the slogan: “We were meant to live together.”

And it was the defense minister of the government of change, Benny Gantz, who made the shameful decision to classify as terrorist organizations six Palestinian civil society organizations.

In this “no-choice coalition,” it’s more important to right-wingers like Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and lawmaker Nir Orbach to maintain Jewish supremacy and see to the expansion of the settlements than it is to lawmakers from Labor, Yesh Atid, UAL, Meretz and Kahol Lavan to see to justice, equality and the end of the occupation. And so, Labor Party and Yesh Atid lawmakers were absent from the Knesset last week during voting on the racist bills expanding community admission committees and banning Palestinian flags at state-funded institutions, allowing their passage.

The government failed abysmally Monday when it tried to extend the Israeli apartheid regulations that mean one law for Jews and another for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. While the messianic right voted against the bill, most of the center-left in the coalition voted for the bill, to save the Jewish supremacy laws – in the name of stability and normalcy, of course.

As former Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair wrote: “The difference between the left part and the right part of the government with regard to the settlements is slender: The right part encourages them and the left part comes to terms with them. Practically speaking, the difference is nonexistent.”

There is no doubt that it is important to fight the immorality and corruption in the Netanyahu government. But we must remind those who have forgotten, or who choose of their own free will to flee from issues of justice and human rights, that the most immoral corruption is the occupation and apartheid.

With the establishment of the current government, forces that once fought the occupation have become a fig leaf for the Israeli apartheid regime. Crimes that were once committed in the shadows now take place in the open. Those who entered the government to moderate its more right-wing elements are in practice lending a hand to deepening the occupation, silencing criticism of Israeli policies and legitimizing continued Israeli spread and control in the occupied territories.

The daily violence in the occupied territories is invisible to most Israeli Jews, either because it’s easier or because it is perceived as normal. The silence of the coalition with regard to the army’s killing spree is thunderous, and permits it. The theft of land, the expansion of the settlements, ethnic cleansing of the inhabitants of Masafer Yatta, the ongoing criminal blockade of Gaza, the wholesale destruction of homes, the killings and arrests without trial and protection of settler terror – these are the face of the “government of change.”

As long as the UAL continues to vote for the settlement project, Labor continues to support institutional racism and restrain themselves on the crimes of the settlers and Meretz doesn’t fight against the deepening of the apartheid regime, the bloody cycle, whose price is paid by Jews and Arabs every day, will only grow stronger.

After 55 years of military occupation and decades of national oppression and racist discrimination against the Palestinian people, Jewish supremacy is perceived as natural. All the more so when the “Zionist left” and the United Arab List serve as a defensive wall for Israeli colonialism.

In the Knesset Wednesday we shall show how life looks under military occupation to anyone who does not want to see, and we’ll remind Israel and the world that this racist apartheid regime is not an edict from heaven, that things can be different.

Aida Touma-Sliman is a Knesset member for the Joint List.

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