Ignoring Racism in Afula

Netanyahu and his fellow cabinet members promote racist laws whose sole purpose is to give this superiority the force of law

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from right, and his wife Sara attend an inauguration ceremony of Hahemek rail line in the train station in Afula, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Some 150 Afula residents, including former Mayor Avi Alkabetz, who is running for the position again, and Acting Mayor Shlomo Malihi, demonstrated Wednesday against the sale of a home in the city to an Arab family. “The residents of Afula don’t want a mixed city, but rather a Jewish city, and it’s their right,” explained Elkabetz, adding, “That’s not racism.”

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If that isn’t racism, then what is? In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, which translated the Zionist vision of a national home for the Jewish people into an ultranationalist project of Jewish supremacy, it is easy to get confused. Racism and ethnic superiority have acquired legitimacy, and Netanyahu and his fellow cabinet members promote racist laws whose sole purpose is to give this superiority the force of law. Theoretically, if we’re talking about the kind of Jewish state the right talks about, why resist Afula’s desire to be a Jewish city?

As long as such racist behavior gets by without provoking determined opposition, public condemnation and vocal criticism, it will increase and become legitimate and transparent. The opposition to the right-wing government has an important role to play here. It must draw red lines and mold the public discussion  in accordance with its worldview. Why weren’t Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay, Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and even Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid in Afula leading an anti-racism counterdemonstration? Why didn’t they express support for the sale of the home to an Arab family?

This is a critical ethical question with far-reaching political implications. The right, as it is reflected in the most ultranationalist government in Israel’s history, draws its power in part from a blatantly racist, anti-Arab base. Netanyahu himself appealed to his potential voters in the last election by warning that “Arabs are coming to the polls in droves.”

The left must recognize that its main purpose is to erase racism and represent a sane, enlightened alternative to the moral darkness into which Netanyahu is leading Israel. Otherwise the left will never be reawakened and it will be wiped off the political map.

Israel expects foreign governments to take expressions of anti-Semitism within their borders seriously and to publicly denounce it. In Israel, in contrast, expressions of hatred for Arabs are met with total indifference at best or encouragement at worst. To our great shame, we cannot expect the government to denounce such ugly behavior, since the right itself spreads hatred and racism and benefits from them in elections. But if the protest in Afula failed to bring opposition leaders, who claim to champion equality and human dignity, to the streets, then who needs them?

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.