Yesterday’s announcements of indictments against Israeli PM Netanyahu were laced with anti-“Arab” bigotry. Netanyahu said angrily the goal of the attorney general is to put a leftwing party in power with “Arab” support. And in a bribery charge the AG announced, Netanyahu allegedly sought frontpage coverage from Walla News of his infamous threat in the last election, 2015, that Arabs were coming to the polls in droves, in exchange for government favors to Walla’s owner.
The bigotry should cause sensible people to reflect on a core principle of the Jewish democracy that the current campaign is highlighting: No government can be formed with a Palestinian Arab party as a coalition partner. It just will not happen, and recent developments show it.
All the liberal Zionists are now hoping that “Blue and White,” the vaunted centrist bloc, wins the plurality of 120 parliamentary seats in April, as is projected, and then will be able to knock off the hated Netanyahu. But there is increasing speculation that the only way Blue and White will be able to form a governing coalition is by moving right, and forming a parliamentary majority coalition with Netanyahu’s party, Likud. Same policies, different front man.
The reason Blue and White would do so is because it CANNOT reach out to the voters of the left, because that would mean forming a coalition with Palestinian parties. There’s a “stigma” in reaching out to Palestinians, Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum says, generously. Mitchell Plitnick at Lobelog is more to the point. It’s pure “bigotry.” Three days ago, Plitnick writes, Blue and White leader co-leader Yair Lapid “made it clear how much fear his party has of being labeled as partners with ‘the Arabs.’”
Referring to Arab citizens of Israel, he told a cheering crowd in a recorded speech aired by Israel Radio on Monday morning, “We didn’t speak with them, we didn’t ask them… We won’t form a government with the Arab parties, we will contact Likud.”
So while the hope existed that Blue and White might reach a majority by employing a “blocking” vote of five or six Palestinian members of Knesset who would agree to vote on its side and thereby block Netanyahu from getting to 61, but not serve in the Blue and White government, Blue and White is pretty much ruling that out. While Netanyahu is trying to scare voters with just that prospect.
Meanwhile, the former leading opposition party, Labor, the rough equivalent of the Democratic Party here, has released its new political agenda. “Three Paths to Separation.” The separation refers to separating from Palestinians.
This sure sounds a lot like the Democratic Party in the Jim Crow South here 60 years ago.
Labor also is promoting the fact that it has an Israeli general as second on its list for the Knesset. “Labor has some elderly hawkish base, they want to preserve them,” Tal Schneider explains at J Street. General Tal Russo supervised Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 that B’Tselem says killed 87 civilians and 69 combatants in Gaza, raising “suspicions that the military violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL).”
Labor needs to keep up with Blue and White, which has three generals in its leadership, none of whom is very articulate, but Israeli Jews defer to generals. Gantz’s short speeches boil down to, “I was a chief of staff for the IDF, and you knew how I managed things, the way I worked, the way I did things,” Tal Schneider says.
“In Israel being a high ranked officer is sometimes enough for these people to present themselves to the public without getting into specifics. [Gantz] doesn’t talk about the economy at all. We have no idea of his agenda in housing, anything, energy, public transportation, health care crisis.”
So that’s the Israeli Jewish polity. It’s overwhelmingly anti-Palestinian and militaristic.
American liberal Zionists are feeling hopeful right now. They are all visualizing the downfall of Benjamin Netanyahu (count me in on that).
And they are crowing about the American Jewish criticism of Netanyahu for working with an extremist racist party Otzma Yehudi, the Jewish Power Party, to try to hold onto power. And yes, this is a special moment. American Jews across the board spoke out against the idea of horsetrading with the heirs of Kach, a terrorist organization aimed at removing Palestinians from the land, and even AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee condemned the deal as a threat to Israel’s “democratic and Jewish” brand, while
Batya Ungar-Sargon, who along with Bari Weiss is the new voice of the American Zionist consensus, wrote, “Wow. This truly is a Rubicon moment for the American Jewish community.”
Weiss herself flung the American Jewish criticism in our face:
This is Jewish leadership. And it exposes the strawman erected by anti-Zionists: That legitimate criticism of Israel is smeared as anti-Semitic. This is criticism of Israel. No one mistakes it for something else.
Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum celebrated the ability of American Jews to insert themselves into Israeli politics because, hey, Israelis call on American Jews to act on their behalf politically all the time.
The idea that non-Israeli Jews should not comment on the goings on in a Jewish state or the actions of a prime minister who has publicly claimed the authority to speak for and represent Jews everywhere is abject nonsense. Israelis often ask their American Jewish counterparts to take U.S. candidates’ views and attitudes toward Israel into consideration, which is a logical request, but it must go the other way as well. With the amount of time, money, effort, and emotional capacity that American Jewish organizations and American Jews spend on supporting and thinking about Israel and making it a central part of their identity, “sit down and shut up” is simply not an acceptable theory of how American Jews should act when they see something in Israel that they don’t like or that goes so far in offending their sensibilities as the Otzma Yehudit gambit went.
The question that we must ask Michael Koplow and Batya Ungar-Sargon (and Ron Kampeas too, who believes, correctly, that American Jews influence Israeli leaders) is What’s the red line? When one Zionist party after another refuses to have anything to do with “Arabs,” and even Labor insists on a policy of “separation” from Arabs, shouldn’t American Jews be exercising more influence? Shouldn’t we be pulling from our own playbook in the States? Remember Rabbi Heschel with Martin Luther King?
I’d argue that all these political developments support a very common-sense conclusion: There is something fundamentally wrong with the concept of a “Jewish and democratic state” that explains the unending resistance to the concept on the part of its second-class citizens. And maybe it wasn’t the main strand of Zionism when Zionism got going, but this is the way it’s worked out. Face the reality.
P.S. There’s one good sign in this mess. Meretz, a leftwing party that is sort of like the Democratic left, has issued a list of parliamentary candidates that includes a Muslim and Druze politician high in the order. Meretz, which has eschewed the Zionist brand, can actually claim to be non-racist in that it has Issawi Frej and a renowned Druze school principal, Ali Shalalha, in its fourth and fifth positions. “Meretz may be appealing a little bit more to the Muslim Druze community than the past. I’m not saying that they will have tons of new voters coming from that direction, but they might,” Tal Schneider says to J Street. Though there is a real danger that Meretz will not reach the 3 percent or so necessary to be given the minimum of four seats in the parliament.
Correction: This post originally stated that the Labor banner includes the word Hafrada. It does not.