One of the idealistic hopes that arose during the recent Israeli political wrangling was the possibility that centrist Benny Gantz would end the Netanyahu era by forming a “minority” government of 44 Jewish members of Knesset on the center-left with the “outside” support of legislators who would keep the government from being voted out. The outside bloc was ten or more Palestinian members of Knesset and eight seats held by rightwinger Avigdor Lieberman.
The Palestinian political leader Ayman Odeh implored Gantz to rise to the moment and make such a coalition, based on the idea of equality of Palestinians and Jews. In a stirring speech at J Street in October, Odeh explained that this was what Yitzhak Rabin had done in 1993: formed a governing coalition with the outside support of Palestinian parties, and it had allowed him to pursue the peace process.
Rabin led a minority government supported from the outside by the Arab and Arab Jewish parties… Without [Palestinian leader Tawfik] Ziad there would have been no Rabin coalition, no negotiations, and no peace process. This is a time for bravery once again… I am calling on Benny Gantz…. Be brave like Rabin was in 1993 and it would be my honor to be brave like Tawfik Ziad. In the words of the great America poet Lin Manuel Miranda, history has its eyes on us. Our demand is nothing more and nothing less than a basic agenda for equality.
Odeh’s hope soon died. Gantz failed to form any kind of coalition, including a minority one. As the New York Times and other media told us, it was because Avigdor Lieberman refused to have anything to do with Palestinians, labeling them a “fifth column,” and Gantz needed Lieberman’s eight seats.
Well, not really.
Yesterday I was shocked to learn something I should have known weeks ago: The reason the possibility of a “minority” government led by Benny Gantz in Israel did not go forward was that members of his own centrist party refused to sit with Palestinians.
Evan Gottesman and Eli Kowaz discussed the “minority” government idea on the Israel Policy Forum podcast (Dec. 12th):
Gottesman: It didn’t seem like it was torpedoed by Lieberman even though in the public reaction to it, Lieberman had to take the role of saying, You know I would never sit with the Arabs, and taking on his typical bellicose stance. But it looked like that sort of initiative was actually most controversial within Kahol Lavan [Blue and White] itself, that there were some of the rightwing MK’s within Kahol Lavan… opposed to a narrow minority government that would be supported from the outside by the Joint List.
Kowaz: So from my understanding, it didn’t even get to the point of inviting Avigdor Lieberman to be part of that government because of what you just noted about the Kahol Lavan MKs talking about, on the right. Kahol Lavan encompasses a lot of different political viewpoints.
Gottesman: That was Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel I believe.
Kowaz: Exactly. Those are members of Bogie Yaalon’s Telem faction in Kahol Lavan.
You can find this point in the Israeli press, but over there, racism is ho-hum news. Gantz was reported last month to be angry at the racists. “Because of Yoaz Hendel and Tzvika Hauser, I’m not Prime Minister,” he said.
But no problem. Gantz is now keeping the two men on his Blue and White list for the March elections. Even though Yoaz Hendel explicitly opposed Palestinian political participation, per the Israeli press last summer:
“Blue and White will establish a broad and state-oriented nationalist unity government,” Hendel said. “We respect the Arab citizens of Israel and see them as citizens entitled to all rights, but we will not sit with the Arab parties, which fundamentally deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Period.”
The issue here is American liberals, our liberal press and liberal Zionists. Benny Gantz is a hero to liberal Zionists. They see him as the man who can take down Netanyahu. “An Opening for Hope,” the New Israel Fund said of Gantz getting the opportunity to form a government just last month.
[S]omething is changing for the better in Israel.
If Israel’s Jewish electorate said anything clearly, it was a clear “no” to Jewish extremists who incite against Arab citizens. And Israel’s Arabs citizens turned out in large numbers to vote for the Joint List, a party that the first time in a quarter century has reached out to Jewish parties to build political partnership.
Now look why that didn’t happen. Because of racism inside the Blue and White Party. Liberal Americans who are connected to Israel ought to be denouncing this racism and putting pressure on Gantz to purge open racists from his party. It’s not happening. Kowaz and Gottesman of Israel Policy Forum don’t seem to regard this news as problematic. No, once again Israeli political culture has revealed itself to be deeply racist; and American friends of Israel walk on by.