It’s no surprise that Benjamin Netanyahu joined the mission that Interior Minister Arye Dery took on: barring Raja Zaatry, leader of the Hadash party in the Haifa City Council, from serving as deputy mayor — a paid position. It’s only natural for the prime minister, who objects to Arab citizens exercising their right to vote and as a result warns against “Arabs going to the polls in droves,” to object to their daring to exercise their right to be elected.
Netanyahu has always benefited electorally from inciting against Arabs, portraying them as a fifth column and as supporters of terrorism. This kind of incitement “pays off” for the right twice over: On one hand, it encourages people to vote for those who promise to fight this minority and maintain the country’s “Jewish character.” And on the other, it undermines the legitimacy of alliances with Arab parties, such as the one forged by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Zaatry has denounced Zionism, asserted that Hamas and Hezbollah aren’t terrorist organizations and declared their resistance to the occupation legitimate. Netanyahu said he asked Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem to cancel the appointment of “a deputy mayor who supports Hezbollah and Hamas, which have declared their intention to destroy the State of Israel.” But even if Zaatry’s remarks are not music to Jewish Israeli ears, the attempt to reduce them into support for a battle to destroy Israel is demagogic and hypocritical.
Zaatry is an Israeli Palestinian, and the two components of his identity are embroiled in a bloody conflict. His people has lived under Israeli military rule for more than 50 years, and not long ago, the country of which he is a citizen abandoned the principle of equality and enacted the nation-state law, which enshrines in law Jewish supremacy and Arab inferiority.
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Zaatry’s political views, however difficult they may be to hear, are legitimate. If his opponents had any legal basis for disqualifying his candidacy on account of them, they would have done so before he was elected.
Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay and Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg both deserve praise for supporting Kalisch Rotem’s courageous refusal to give in to the pressure to cancel this appointment. The governing coalition she has formed ought to inspire the left’s leadership.
“She faces a challenge that isn’t easy, of maintaining coexistence in the city,” Gabbay commented. And indeed, the future of the state, not to mention the political camp he seeks to lead, depends on the possibility of coexistence and of creating political alliances between Arabs and Jews.
Arab citizens have the right to elect their own representatives. Zaatry was appointed democratically, as part of a coalition agreement, and there’s no legal justification for disqualifying him. He is expected to convene a press conference Wednesday, at which he will presumably offer to let Kalisch Rotem appoint Shahira Shalabi, No. 2 on the slate, as deputy mayor in his stead. This might be the smart solution, but it isn’t the just one.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.