Opinion |

Matan Kahana Smashed the Idols of the Zionist Left

Kobi Niv
Kobi Niv
Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, in May.
Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, in May.Credit: Yonatan Zindel/ Flash 90
Kobi Niv
Kobi Niv

“If there was a button you could press that would make all the Arabs here disappear, and put them on an express train to Switzerland, where they would live amazing, amazing lives. ... I would press that button,” Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana of the Yamina party told students at a high school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. “But what can we do? There is no such button to send the Arabs to Switzerland in a good way, and therefore we are probably destined to [co]exist in this land in some way.”

The comments sparked an immediate and fierce backlash – “How awful! The minister wants to send the Arabs to Switzerland. (The train reference, combined with the fact that adding two letters before the Hebrew word for Switzerland gives you “Auschwitz,” certainly contributed to this).

The next day, Kahana amended his remarks: “In my conversation with students yesterday I repeated the obvious understanding that neither we nor the Arabs or going anywhere, so we have to find a way to live together. The current government is an important step in this direction.” Which sparked immediate cries of rejoicing: “Hallelujah, the minister believes in coexistence between Jews and Arabs.”

But before he reached his conclusion – the initial one or the improved version – in the “civics lesson” that he taught in Efrat, Kahana said several more things that were just as important and interesting.

“Within the [19]67 lines, as they’re called, a lot of places are built on places where Arabs once lived. On the other hand, in Judea and Samaria, which we liberated after ‘67, there is no place where we expelled Arabs in order to build our communities. Why am I saying this? Because there’s this idea that says that if we return to the ’67 lines, there will be peace. There will be two states living alongside one another and everything will be swell. But I don’t believe that. Why don’t I believe that? Because we were exiled from our country 2,000 years ago. For 2,000 years we dreamed and prayed and wrote songs about it, and we returned to our country. We believe that God gave us this country, that it was promised to us in the covenant of the pieces [also known as the covenant of the parts]. The Bible is our deed of title. No one can tell us that it is not ours, all of it. But the Arabs have another story. We know that it’s nonsense, we know that it’s not true, but this is the story that they tell themselves. Not that we should believe it is true, heaven forbid, but we should understand the story that they tell themselves. And the story that they tell themselves is that they always lived here and then we came and expelled them."

“Now, why have I said all this? Because, in my view, the idea that if we only return to the ’67 lines, there will be peace here and two states that live peacefully side by side, is rubbish. Because they will never give up Beit Gamliel [the moshav in central Israel where Kahana has lived for most of his life] and they will never give up Sheikh Munis – Tel Aviv University. We dreamed for 2,000 years. For them it’s been only 74 years. Should anyone expect them to give up the dream of returning after 74 years? Therefore, I think the chance of peace is nonexistent, certainly not in the foreseeable future.”

And then came the remark about the button that would magically send all the Arabs to Switzerland, the button that, to Kahana’s dismay, does not exist.

Kahana shattered all the supposed (but totally false) consensus notions that the Zionist left has been selling us for decades about the conflict, about the war between us and the Palestinians – that is, about Israel’s expulsion and oppression of the Palestinian people since 1948.

First, he rejects the basic Zionist-left argument according to which the root of the conflict, the presumed root of all evil, is the “occupation” of 1967, and that if we would just end it and withdraw to the Green Line and let the Palestinians establish a puppet state in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip there will be peace and the Palestinians will forget all about the “right of return” and all will be fine and dandy. Why should they renounce their desire to return to their homes after 74 years, the minister rightly asks, when we did not renounce our desire to return to our homes for 2,000 years?

Kahana is saying in effect that the Nakba, the conquests of 1948 and the expulsion of Palestinians and destruction of their villages, did not happen, as everyone here declaims, because “they started it” or “they wanted to destroy us,” but because, we, all of us, believe that the Land of Israel is ours. Therefore we conquered it from the Palestinians and expelled them and destroyed their homes and built the Jewish state in their stead. The 1967 conquests, Kahana says, are merely a continuation, in fact more enlightened and humane, of the 1948 conquests. The root of the conflict, he asserts, stating a truth from which we all run away, is the Nakba and not “the occupation.”

The fact that Kahana is telling the truth doesn’t mean he is humane, heaven forbid. Believing that your feelings and aspirations are “God’s will” and the feelings and aspirations of others (despite his being such a good Zionist that he acknowledges their existence) are “nonsense” is tremendously inhumane. What really is his solution to our “conflict” with the Palestinians? Is he suggesting that we recognize their story, even in part, and permit them a little “right of return”? Not on your life. Is he proposing that they be given equal rights to the Jews in “our” Land of Israel? No way. He proposes coexistence “in some form.” What does that mean? It means the continuation of the current situation – brutal oppression until the magic button, or trigger, that will make them vanish or throw them out – in a good way, if possible, and if not, then not – is found or invented.

The author A. B. Yehoshua, the high priest of the Zionist left, who remained fiercely devoted to his Zionism to his dying day, basically thought the same thing. On the one hand, unlike most of his friends in the Zionist left, and this is impressive in itself, he understood that the “two-state vision” is a lie and an illusion deception that will not lead to peace. On the other hand, he did not find and did not propose any other solution. He rejected the possibility of a binational state, terming it a “catastrophe,” and held the same view regarding the vision of “a state of all its citizens.”

So what to do then? Simply carry on. Carry on with the brutal oppression of the Palestinians until the magic button is discovered or invented. And if we have no choice, we’ll have to expel and destroy and do whatever is necessary. Because when there’s no choice, there’s no choice.

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