In a country that’s trapped in a bottomless whirlpool of election cycles, cynicism is bottomless, too, which is why the leading issue in this election is the sudden wooing of Arab voters, who up to now had been demonstrably ignored.
Spearheading the effort, of course, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, with his electoral and legal woes, along with his new image as peacemaker between Israel and Arab states, has undergone the fastest possible transformation from warning about Arab voters “streaming to the polling stations in droves” to being nicknamed “Abu Yair”; from one whose campaign only recently claimed that “the Arabs want to annihilate all of us, men, women and children,” to now calling on them to vote for him, and putting a Muslim candidate on his slate, albeit in a slot unlikely to make it into the Knesset.
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Netanyahu and his advisers have flirted in the past with the divide-and-rule strategy toward Israel’s Arab citizens, through civic incentives along with incitement at the national level. Like many on the right, Netanyahu wants his Arab voters devoid of any national attributes, without diplomatic positions. Thus, in tandem with the bear-hug campaign, Netanyahu continues to incite against Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin, a Labor candidate for the Knesset, who was chosen to play the “bad Arab” to justify his support for Kahanist candidate Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Other parties have followed in Netanyahu’s wake. MK Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beiteinu), who only recently hoisted the banner of racism with plans such as the transfer of Arab citizens, is giving a new twist to the old (veiled transfer) campaign slogan, “Only Lieberman speaks Arabic,” in speeches he gives in Arabic in the center of the Arab city of Sakhnin.
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Yair Lapid has also abandoned making derogatory remarks about Arabs, visiting the Arab city of Taibeh and opening the door, this time publicly, for the establishment of a government supported by the Joint List.
The fact that the center-left bloc needed to wait for Netanyahu to legitimize a political partnership with Israel’s Arab citizens is its badge of shame. Even Meretz, which in an earlier cycle pushed down its only Arab candidate in favor of a former general, has only now understood that a change of direction is needed.
But all this wooing is meaningless if it doesn’t lead to a true partnership, which includes Arab representatives in the coalition and in government. Without an explicit commitment by Lapid, the head of this bloc according to current opinion polls, to include Arab representatives in his government, there is no value to this phony embrace.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.