Of Courage and Cowardice in Israel's Election Campaign

Haaretz Editorial
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The leaders of Kahol Lavan Gabi Ashkenazi, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon near the Gaza border in southern Israel, August 6, 2019.
Haaretz Editorial

The chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, demonstrated courage. In an interview with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, parts of which were published on Thursday, he said he would be willing to recommend that Benny Gantz form the next government, and would also agree to be part of a center-left government. He listed four requirements for joining such a government. In the interview, he demanded repeal of the nation-state law and a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians; later, he added ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

This is the first time the leader of an Arab party has announced his willingness to join any government. Not all the components of the Joint List – a joint ticket comprising four parties – agree with his position; the Balad party has already announced its opposition. But Odeh’s announcement is an encouraging breath of fresh air for anyone who wants to see Arabs integrate as citizens with equal rights in this country and its leadership.

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Yet this positive step immediately ran into a barrage of negative responses from rightist and centrist parties. From the right, which immediately termed him and his party “supporters of terrorism,” this is no surprise. Just this week, Likud joined the Otzma Yehudit party in a petition to disqualify the Joint List from running for Knesset. But the response that truly evoked despair came from the leaders of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, who, in their cowardice, rushed to distance themselves from the Joint List as if it were a leper.

>> Read more: Why should an Israeli Arab vote? | Opinion ■ Israel's Arab parties join forces, but their union lacks a message | Opinion

MK Yair Lapid, who once termed the Arab MKs “Zoabis” (after former MK Haneen Zoabi), said, “Ayman Odeh should first look to his own house and see who he’s bringing into that house before he starts conducting coalition negotiations.” MK Yoaz Hendel said unequivocally, “We won’t sit with the Joint List.” Clear and simple. A party that’s willing, under certain conditions, to sit with any other party isn’t willing to do so with the Joint List under any conditions.

Most of the conditions Odeh set should ostensibly be acceptable to all of Israel’s leftist or centrist parties. Kahol Lavan’s decision to slam the door on Odeh’s outstretched hand underscores the question of how it actually differs from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. This sweeping a priori rejection of sitting in the cabinet with the Joint List doesn’t merely destroy any chance of setting up a center-left government. It also gives a further boost to racism, which once again appears to be the legacy of most Israeli parties. There could be no worse news than that.

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

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