Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to join the boycott of Joint List’s Knesset members, started by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) to protest the Joint List lawmakers’ absence from Shimon Peres’ funeral, shames the prime minister and Israeli democracy. There is no symmetry between a minority’s protest against the majority and the majority’s against the minority. Moreover, the idea that there was some sort of an obligation to be present at that funeral is invalid to begin with.
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Israel’s Arab citizens were marked as enemies by Netanyahu and the right-wing government back on Election Day 2015, when he warned the Jewish public of the danger in the Arabs exercising their right to vote. “The rule of the right wing is in danger. The Arab voters are coming in droves to the polls,” he warned at the time.
His apology 18 months later, explaining that he had been referring to “a specific political party,” was meaningless. After the attack in January at a pub on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, he did not hesitate to take advantage of the incident to incite against the Arab community. “I will not accept two states in Israel. A state of law for most of its citizens and a state within a state for some of its citizens,” he said, speaking from the scene. About two weeks ago, in his “ethnic cleansing” speech, he compared the presence of Arab citizens in Israel to the presence of settlers in the imaginary Palestinian state.
It seems ever clearer that the Arabs of Israel, and not the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, are the elephant in the room where the issue of the Jewish and democratic state is being discussed. Netanyahu and his current government are doing everything they can to deepen delegitimization of the Arabs of Israel and to damage their political representation.
Democracy is not a piece of jewelry that the state puts on when it mingles in society, but rather it involves a real commitment to democracy’s principles and values, first and foremost equality before the law. The collective status of the Israeli Arabs is a true challenge to those who continue to dream of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. This challenge has increasingly been put to the test in recent years. The concern of the Jewish majority over the growing political power of the Arab minority, which manifested itself in the enforced bundling of Arab parties into one Knesset list, has led to a series of anti-democratic laws and frequent statements by Netanyahu and his ministers whose purpose is to show “who’s boss around here.”
But precisely because Israel wants to be a home for the Jewish people demands that its leaders show empathy for the impossible situation of the Arab minority. The job of the prime minister and his ministers is to see to it that this “home” belongs to everyone, certainly to Israel’s Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s citizens. It’s a pity that Netanyahu doesn’t understand this.