The Israeli Blue-White opposition co-chair Yair Lapid ventured into dangerous territory on Twitter last week, where he argued for “equality” and a “state of all its citizens”. This brought backlash not least from the Foreign Minister for being “anti-Semitic” and for using the “slogan of the enemy.” And Lapid quickly retracted.
Let’s start with the series of tweets that came from Lapid on June 21. At 11:05, the avowedly secular former finance minister took on a religious rightwing rival over army service:
Bezalel [Smotrich], for heaven’s sake, at least check the facts. The growth in the rate of (ultra-orthodox) drafting was because I had passed the draft law. What you people refuse to understand is that our kids are not any less important or of lesser value, they are just not willing to be suckers anymore.
At the same minute, he added:
If a secular youth has to enlist in the army, then also an ultra-orthodox one has to. One can make adjustments, but the principle that all have to serve the country and that all are equal before the law is sacred.
Then the bombshell:
And another thing, Smotrich. Israel has to be a state of all its citizens.
This last tweet was before 11:24, and Lapid has removed it since – apparently since t he didn’t want a bombshell on his record for eternity.
Lapid was responding to an interview with Smotrich, the new Transportation Minister, in the Sheldon Adelson-funded daily tabloid Israel Hayom. In that interview, the far-right cabinet minister, who elsewhere said that he “works for God”, spoke about the insistence of people such as Avigdor Lieberman to get the ultra-orthodox drafted, an insistence that was the reason for Netanyahu’s failure to compose a government following the April elections, resulting in new elections set for September.
Smotrich advocated for a softer approach and criticized the hard line taken by Lieberman and Lapid about this issue. Smotrich also chided Lapid for “populism”:
A combination of the populism of Lapid with the stupidity of the Supreme Court and the irresponsibility of Lieberman have only set the situation further back. They do not bring us further ahead.
To say a “state of all its citizens” in a normal liberal democracy is obvious. But in Israel, which is not a normal democracy and arguably not a democracy at all, when you say a “state of all its citizens”, all hell breaks loose.
And so at 11:24, Smotrich linked to Lapid’s tweet, with the comment:
A state of all its citizens?! What happened to a Jewish and democratic state?! Yair my friend, you have lost your way.
At 11:41 Smotrich continued to squeeze the lemon:
Yair Lapid, candidate of Blue White for Prime Minister: “Israel needs to be a state of all its citizens”. Thank you Yair, that this finally came out of you. Any additional word is superfluous.
This was a major debacle for Lapid. He had to do major damage control. At 11:59 he tweeted:
Someone really, but really, didn’t understand what he’s reading. I am against a state of all its citizens, completely and throughout my whole life. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and will remain such. What I wrote regarded the rights of the LGBT.
Lapid was thus claiming to be rebuffing Smotrich’s homophobia – Smotrich had also talked in his interview about the “perverse flags” of the LGBT and their “degenerate values”.
Lapid was apparently not satisfied with his unequivocal rejection of the “state of all its citizens”, so at 4:23 PM, he added another tweet to the series. It was supposed to make it better, but it only made it worse:
Here are two notions concerning the “state of all its citizens”:
1) I’m against.
2) Not tweeting from the shower ever again before drying myself off with a towel
Foreign Minister Israel Katz chimed in, calling Lapid’s “state of all its citizens” remark a “seriously outrageous anti-Semitic remark … the slogan of the enemy”.
This is all partially hilarious, but it’s also very serious. Since Lapid was pressed, we have his unequivocal position concerning a “state of all its citizens” – he is against it. And this is the supposedly liberal alternative to Netanyahu. The discussion about whether Israel is, or can be, a state of all its citizens, has been a central one.
A few months ago, Israeli TV presenter Rotem Sela challenged Netanayhu and asked:
When will anyone in this government tell the public that this is a state of all its citizens, and all people are born equal. The Arabs are also human beings. And also the Druze, and the gays, and the lesbians and… gasp… leftists.
That was wishful thinking, where reality is quite different, and Netanyahu responded to Sela’s claim in no uncertain terms:
Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and its alone. As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab Israeli citizens – they have equal rights like everybody and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.
Netanayhu was right in the first part. The Nation State law codifies the discrimination that has always been inherent in Israel, regarding its citizens (not to mention its occupied subjects and the Palestinians it has expelled). Non-Jewish people, mostly Palestinians, are simply not afforded the same rights as Jews – they are second-class citizens. Israel likes to boast of them as “equal”, but they are not.
Those who truly call for a state of all its citizens are considered beyond the political pale, because they seek to equate the rights of Palestinians, which would mean relinquishing Jewish ‘national’ superiority, and thus open the door to a dismantling of the “Jewish state”, which is built upon this discrimination. This is why Smotrich insists upon “Jewish and democratic”. It’s not the “democratic” that is of interest for him, that’s just a whitewash term to get by (he has recently advocated for a state based upon Jewish biblical law). It is the “Jewish” that interests him. That “Jewish” is in the racial sense, and that’s what keeps the Zionist Jewish State going – not the democracy, but the Jewish superiority. The “democracy” is a convenient veil to prevent Israel from becoming a pariah amongst Western liberal democracies.
Israel Katz’s remarks about the notion of “state of all its citizens” being “anti-Semitic”, shows that Israel basically cannot see any other way to maintain itself but through Apartheid, and any suggestion of weakening it in any way is tantamount to “anti-Semitism”. If you even suggest equality, you are using “a slogan of the enemy”.
And Lapid, the liberal whose “principle” is “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”, he cannot fight it. Oh, sure, he can fight against the homophobic Smotrich, for the rights of LGBT (providing they are Jewish of course). He can fight for drafting ultra-orthodox Jews to the army. But he can’t oppose Israeli Apartheid. No Zionist leader can actually do that, because Zionism is Apartheid, and worse.
And that’s why, in the long run, it is the Smotriches who win these spats with the liberal hypocrites like Lapid. They can simply say it like it is, while the Lapids run to damage control their liberal shower-tweets which went over the Zionist edge.