Remarks Tuesday night by Kahol Lavan chief Benny Gantz are a slap in the face to democratic Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – who yearn for a change in Israel’s dangerous political direction. During an event launching his party’s election headquarters for Arab women in Kafr Bana, Gantz said the Joint List of Arab parties couldn’t be part of any government he would form.
“There are deep disagreements between me and the List with regard to diplomatic, national and security issues,” he said. “My disagreements with its leadership are serious and unbridgeable.”
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Gantz’s remarks came in response to comments by Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh that morning. Speaking to Army Radio, Odeh said his party wouldn’t recommend that Gantz form the next government unless his party heard “a very clear statement from him against transfer and annexation” in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century.”
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Odeh was incensed that Kahol Lavan was remaining silent during what he termed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attacks on the Arab community. “Let Gantz say something. Does he think that we’re in his pocket?” he said.
Evidently, Gantz didn’t live up to the challenge and gave up on a Jewish-Arab partnership. It’s very possible that by rejecting a partnership with the Arabs, Gantz has slammed the door on the possibility of forming a government that would replace the Netanyahu regime.
Then there’s the enthusiasm with which Gantz received Trump’s Mideast plan, which calls for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, and the party leadership’s lack of a response to the racist and exclusionary remarks by Yoaz Hendel, representing the party’s right flank, in an interview with Haaretz last week. If we take all this into account, it isn’t clear what great advantage a change in government would provide.
Kahol Lavan was formed as an alternative to the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but now, with little differences but certain nuances of style, it isn’t clear why Gantz’s party should be preferred over the current regime. It’s true that Gantz hasn’t been charged with corruption, but a political alternative must present a full and complete political program – not just be a cheap, pale version of what’s already in place.
After the last election, Odeh took a brave step by getting most Joint List legislators to recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Gantz be prime minister. Odeh also presented a civic agenda aimed at improving the quality of life for Israeli Arab citizens. Gantz and Odeh could lead a dramatic change that Israel needs just as much as Israelis need air to breathe.
By cooperating they could offer a way to heal the wounds that years of the violent, racist and inflammatory Netanyahu government have inflicted on Israeli society. But by tilting rightward, Kahol Lavan has chosen to leave the Arabs’ outstretched hand hanging.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.