Editorial |

Kahanism: Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Every person of conscience must imagine a leader of any country accusing a political opponent of relying on 'Jewish votes'

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said, in response to polls predicting success for the new Kahol Lavan party, that party leaders “[Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid are relying on a blocking majority of Arab parties that are working to destroy the State of Israel.”

That’s the essence of the ruling party’s talking points, which are being repeated by Likud representatives in the media.

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It’s incredible that such racist and base incitement is a common feature in the rhetoric of Israel’s prime minister, whose shocking and false statement last Election Day about “Arabs coming to the polls in droves,” still echoes in the ears of the Israeli public and the whole world.

This racist incitement befits the person who, through a cynical political deal, is bringing Otzma Yehudit, the ideological heirs and admirers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, into the Knesset. This is a racist and violent movement that advocates expelling Arabs and is anathema both in Israel and abroad. The move was even condemned by AIPAC, America’s most pro-Israel lobby.

But even if this isn’t surprising, its severity must not be underestimated. A democratic state cannot tolerate organized and blatant incitement by the prime minister against a minority that constitutes 20 percent of the population and its elected leadership. Every person of conscience must imagine a leader of any country accusing a political opponent of relying on “Jewish votes.” It is unfortunate that those who see themselves as an alternative to Netanyahu’s racist, xenophobic and anti-democratic regime are distancing themselves in a panic from the Arab parties. Lapid said, in response to Likud’s claims: “Contrary to Netanyahu’s fabrications, no blocking majority has been formed with the Arab parties. Period.”

This is a moral and racist fallacy that presumes all Arab MKs are criminally suspect. Netanyahu, who isn’t even trying to display a semblance of statesmanship or fairness, is an expert in wallowing in racist slime and engaging in sewer politics. He has taken his campaign of delegitimizing Israel’s Arab citizens and extended it to include civic society organizations and supporters of the left. Apologizing or stuttering in response to his racist rhetoric only strengthens it because it affirms his message. From Lapid’s panicked denial one could conclude that there is indeed something illegitimate about cooperating with Arab MKs.

If the Kahol Lavan party seeks to establish a new agenda here, it must erect a strong barrier against the Kahanist fist that has seized control of the ruling party and its leader. Israeli Arab citizens and their elected representatives are a legitimate and important part of Israeli society. Cooperating with them is not some indecent act, but a welcome and desirable step.

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