President Reuven Rivlin’s remarks against unacceptable talk about Arab citizens are like a jolt of oxygen into the Israeli public discourse, which has been poisoned by a prime minister who has lost all restraint in his struggle to stay in power. In the racist and anti-democratic incitement in which Benjamin Netanyahu has ensnared Israelis, the basic democratic truths that Rivlin voiced in a speech the other day are considered beyond the consensus and may get him branded a fifth column once again.
But Rivlin has merely reminded us of something that was once obvious: Israel is obligated to be Jewish and democratic in every sense of the term, and “there are no first-class citizens, there are no second-class voters. We are all equal at the ballot box, Jews and Arabs alike. We will all be represented in the Knesset,” as Rivlin put it. To Netanyahu’s shame, believing in the ABCs of democracy is close to treachery in today’s Israel.
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Netanyahu’s criminal incitement against Arab citizens, and his delegitimizing of their political representation and any political connection with them aren’t only racist, they’re part of a strategy to sabotage the possibility of changing the government. Netanyahu is inculcating into the public the warped concept that 120 is only the gross number of lawmakers in the Knesset. From this the Arab parties must be subtracted to yield the net number of legitimate seats for building a governing coalition. Under this concept, in the current Knesset there are only 107 legitimate seats.
In this distorted fashion, Netanyahu is forging an advantage for the right-wing camp because the Arabs, being a minority discriminated against, naturally find their place in the left camp.
When Netanyahu says Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid “are relying on a blocking majority containing Arab parties seeking to destroy Israel,” we must remember that he doesn’t really believe that the Arab parties are trying to destroy Israel. He’s lying so that he can achieve one goal: exclude the legitimate democratic option for left and center parties to forge a ruling coalition with Arab parties or rely on their support from outside the government.
From this standpoint, the cooperation by Gantz, Lapid and others in their camp in delegitimizing Arab lawmakers isn’t only anti-democratic, it totally lacks wisdom because it ties their hands politically. Israel needs a worthy alternative to the dangerous politics of division being sowed by Netanyahu. As long as his rivals fear proposing an alternative in which Arab parties are welcome partners, they will not only remain stuck in the opposition, they will deserve to be there.
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