An Israeli actor and anchor named Rotem Sela expressed civil courage beyond the call of duty earlier this week when she attacked Minister Miri Regev directly and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indirectly, writing:
“[W]hen in hell will someone in this government tell the public that Israel is the state of all its citizens. And that all people were born equal. And the Arabs, God have mercy, are humans. As are the Druze. And the gays, by the way, and the lesbians, and also – shock – the leftists.”
By writing these words, even as the Likud and its supporters bombard the public against the very idea of a government including the Palestinian-Israeli parties, Sela showed considerably more courage than that shown by the three former Army Chiefs of Staff and the TV personality who lead what purports to be the main opposition party, Blue White. Naturally, as soon as Sela dared to write her abominable heresy, she received the well-known right-wing treatment. No death threats have been reported yet, but surely they’re on their way. Solidarity, Rotem, and be strong. One hell of a shit hydrant is turned your way, but take comfort in the fact we’re in an election season, and it will be soon turned somewhere else.
PM Netanyahu found time between meeting with his attorneys and mysterious donors to respond to Sela. He wrote:
A major correction – Israel is not a country of all its citizens. According to the Nationality Basic Law we passed, Israel is the country of the Jewish nation – and its alone. As you’ve written, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens – they’ve equal rights as all of us and the Likud government invested in the Arab sector more than other government [this claim is a blatant lie – YZG] The Likud merely asked to emphasize that the major question in these elections is whether a strong government led by me or whether a left wing government by Yair Lapid and Gantz with the support of the Arab parties [will be formed]. Lapid and Gantz has no other way to form a government, and such a government will shake the security of the state and its citizens.
What does Netanyahu tell us, quite openly, even as he slings bullshit? That the citizenship of the Israeli Palestinians is all very nice, until we reach the minor issue of the right to elect and be elected. The very participation of Palestinian representatives in government “will shake the security of the state and its citizens.” Pay attention to the last word: notice how it wipes away the citizenship of the Palestinian voters. Their votes “shakes the security of the voters” – i.e., not themselves.
The man who in 1995 led the hatred campaign against the Yitzhak Rabin Government claiming it “relies on Arab votes”; who was elected in 1996 on the basis of the slogan “Netanyahu is good for the Jews [and you can understand for yourselves who is good for the Arabs]”; who used the last hours of the 2015 elections to distribute a libel about “Arabs rushing to the polls” is now telling anyone who wants to hear – anyone who does not actively blocks his ears – that Israel is not a democracy: it is a Jewish State.
The Jewish state is a peculiar institution, located in time and space circa Alabama in 1866, after it was accepted that the freedmen are human beings, and have some rights a white man is bound to respect, but before they gained the franchise.
One must give Netanyahu his due: he spoke of things as they are. Israeli Palestinians were never a part of any Israeli government. Even Rabin did not include them in his coalition. And yet.
And yet there was hope. It mainly flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, when it looked – for a few brief moments of bright sunshine before a long, hard winter – that Israel might manage to become a country of all its residents, that it might bury the years of hostility and dispossession, that it might manage to understand that its residents will be dependent on one another. This hope, the hope for Israeliness, was murdered by those Israelis who preferred their Jewishness and saw their Israeli identity as an unwanted appendix; the camp of the murderers was led by Binyamin Netanyahu.
During the debate about the Nationality Law, its supporters claimed it was an empty law, devoid of essence, even as they fought tooth and nail for the passage of this supposedly pointless law. Now we know what everyone who didn’t bury his head in the sand knew in real time: the law is intended to erode the legitimacy of citizenship of Palestinian Israelis. They will be partial citizens, with their citizenship an empty shell. They will have certain legal protections – presumably, it would be illegal to murder them if there are too many cameras around – but the core of citizenship, the vote, will be denied them effectively if not formally. They may be allowed to vote, but their votes will not be effectively counted. After all, should they participate in the process of decision-making, “the security of the of the state and its citizens would be shaken.”
Welcome to Dixie.
The franchise, and more than that the right to be elected, is the heart of citizenship. Those who have no voice and cannot effect the identity of the representatives, will always be the victims of those who do have a voice. And if you’re allowed to elect representatives, only to have them put in a reservation and anyone contacting them is a considered a leper, they aren’t really representatives. It’s a charade for hasbara purposes.
Which raises the question: why did Netanyahu plant a huge mine under the entire system of hasbara which was his pride and joy for decades? After all, the next time an Israeli representative will stammer that Israel is a democracy, he will become a laughing stock. So why did Netanyahu do it?
For two reasons. First, it’s a classic gaffe: Netanyahu said openly what he truly believes in but usually has the sense to say only behind closed doors.
Secondly, Netanyahu isn’t, and never was, an Israeli patriot. All he cares about is his own survival. He needs to win this election, or he stands a very good chance of going to prison. To win, he needs to appeal to the most atavistic urges of his voters. So first he endorsed the Kahanists, and now he echoes Kahane himself.
And, if by the way the legitimacy of the Zionist regime he purports to believe in suffers a major blow? Never mind. As his wife famously said, let the country burn; we’d move abroad.
So, to those who are still Israelis first: you have no other country. Go and vote. Brave people, like Sela and President Rivlin – who, once more, insisted on proving that where there are no people, you must overcome the urge to join the herd and become human – need you. And they cannot stand alone. Arise like a lion.