Blue-White, the largest Jewish party in Israel, announced last week it renounces the idea of creating a stable government: It declared there is no scenario in which it will accept the Joint List, which represents Israeli Palestinians. Blue White’s leader, Benny Gantz, made it clear (Hebrew) that the Joint List won’t be part of his coalition. Spokespersons for Blue White said they will rely on Avigdor Liberman’s party (polling at seven or eight seats of 120) in order to create a government.
The numbers, alas, do not add up. Even assuming, generously, that Blue White gets 35 seats; that Labour (which united with Meretz) gets eight seats (again, I’m being generous); and that Liberman will keep his eight seats, this only adds up to 51 (35 + 8 + 8). The magic number is 61. That’s ten seats short. So either Blue White believes it can crack the right-wing block, getting ten seats from those parties, and have already mail-ordered a flying pig. Or they’ll need the Joint List for support.
Liberman is a broken reed to rely on. He’s one of the main reasons Israel is heading for a third round of elections within a year. Nobody knows what he wants. He is a reputed gangster who escaped by the skin of his teeth from indictment after several witnesses mysteriously disappeared. He is the modern promoter of the plan to move parts of Israel with a majority of Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority, as a way of depriving those citizens of their natural-born rights. Unlike the Joint List, Gantz did not say he had “deep and unbridgeable divisions” with Liberman.
Blue White had done its best to make it harder for the leaders of Joint List to join it in the future. The party was silent about the Jared-Kushner-Netanyahu plan for a long while, and Gantz needed almost two weeks to say he rejects the transfer of Israeli-Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority.
It’s worth noting Gantz’s voters are significantly more liberal than he: Last November, 52% of them said they would support accepting the Joint List as external support for a minority government (Hebrew). A leader with any measure of ingenuity and vision would develop this sentiment and offer the Palestinian-Israeli public a historical deal.
Gantz, apparently, isn’t such a leader.
Why? The surface reason is the Likud campaign, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which hammers time and again the message that Gantz will accept the Joint List as partners. Gantz was apparently scared of this message, so he played into Likud’s hands and said he forswears such partnership.
Which means that when he will have no choice but to create a minority government with the outside support of the Joint List (which was generous enough to say it will not support a government containing Liberman, but neither will it oppose it), Likud will scream its head off that Gantz broke his promise to the voters. And for once, they’d be telling the truth.
All this happened before: A major cause of the Rabin assassination in 1995 was Likud’s repeated claim Rabin “lacked a Jewish majority.” The assassin, Yigal Amir, claimed that at the peace rally where he murdered Rabin, half the speeches were in Arabic. Complete bullshit, of course; if only so many leftists could understand Arabic. But this was bullshit half the Jewish public consumed with pleasure.
Gantz does not want to end up like Rabin, so he tells the Jewish right what it wants to hear. He’ll have to pay the price for hypocrisy later. But it’s a bit unfair to pick on Gantz; he’s a newbie to politics. Let’s look at his veteran partner, Yair Lapid, who once wrote (Hebrew) that “after [we deal] with the Palestinians, we’ll have to deal with the Israeli Arabs”; and who wrote (Hebrew) a sort of prayer, beseeching He Who Spoke and Made the World that “there is rock called the Palestinians, and while it’s true, Father in heaven, that you can’t lift it, but couldn’t you please roll it aside?” Lapid wants the Palestinians to vanish, and they, damn them, refuse.
When all is said and done, the wish for the Palestinians to vanish is the ur-wish of Zionism. This is the only way to make the fantasy of “a land without a people for a people without a land.” But while the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories are a problem, they are the lesser problem: They are, by definition, enemies.
A much more complex problem is Palestinians in Israel. They are Israeli citizens. What do we do? The basic Zionist answer, post 1948, is to pretend they’re not here. Hence that classic and almost untranslatable bureaucratic term, nifkadim nochachim (“people who are absent yet present”), referring to 1948 Palestinians the government does not wish to recognize. We’ll deal with them later, sometime later, when we’ll have the spare time. How shall we deal with them? You don’t mention 1948 in civil conversation, but much of Israeli discourse is anything but civil.
But they’re here, and they’re the greatest threat to good Zionists like Gantz and Lapid. Israeli Palestinians, for their part, have been trying to blend in Israeli society for 40 years now. And the more they try to blend in, the harsher the slaps they receive. The best times was the second Rabin Government, but then came Netanyahu, on the wings of the election slogan that “Bibi is good for the Jews”; there was no need to say who he was bad for. After Netanyahu came Ehud Barak, with the massacre of October 2000, and Barak screaming on the radio for police to “clear the roads” of Palestinian Israeli demonstrators.
Then we had almost 20 years of hostile right-wing governments. Then, three months ago, a vanishing golden moment: Gantz meeting with the leaders of the Joint List, and the Joint List’s announcement it wishes to sit in the government.
Such an announcement is not obvious. While the Palestinians of Israel want – as all polls show – to be accepted as part of the Israeli public, they still oppose the Israeli policy against Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Accepting the legitimacy of a Zionist government is not an easy step for the Joint List to make, and many people keep telling them they’ll be used and discarded. Now Gantz is making it plain those who want to blend in will be brushed aside as soon as racial drums begin to roll.
At the end of the day, the Jewish public – as expressed by its leaders Gantz and Lapid – has two problems with Palestinians in Israel: Their demand for equality, and what it implies.
The idea of equality will change the entire way an Israeli government will have to act. It will have to spend on a Palestinian citizen precisely what it spends on a Jewish one, even – heavens forbid! – what it spends on a Jewish settler. A whole series of unspoken privileges will have to be done away with. For a party that refuses to cancel the 2018 Nationality Law (which granted Jews the exclusive right of “self-determination” in the “land of Israel”), it’s a pretty big frog to swallow. And in the end, that’s why Gantz and Lapid will always have more in common with Liberman than with Ayman Odeh: They can’t accept a Palestinian Israeli is equal.
Why? Rationally, Lapid and Gantz understand they need Palestinians in Israel, and not just for political reasons. Palestinians are the dormant engine of Israeli economics. If it is started, we’d all be richer. But there are stronger forces than politics and economics.
Because equality also means sexual equality. And this is the greatest taboo of rabbinical Judaism: Marrying the foreigner. Rabbinical Judaism has a pretty sound fear of merging with other populations. History teaches it that it has precious little to offer; wherever and whenever Jews were given a choice, they left rabbinical Judaism behind. Most Jews over the centuries left Judaism, mostly on their own volition. In order to prevent such merging, you need fences; the gentiles were good enough to create such fences over the years – and once they were removed, most Jews escaped.
Therefore, we must create our own fences. The Jews of Israel must be taught that the foreigner is, foremost, threatening and dangerous. Most ads against merging in Israel – a surprisingly flowering cottage industry – are based on those themes. Then, you have to tell good Jews that the foreigner is despised and daily humiliated, and that sexual association with him will lead to a drastic lowering of status.
Yet were the foreigner equal, it will be very hard to describe him or her as dangerous, and even less so as despised: He or she will be a citizen like everyone else. Naturally, Jewish Israeli society will lag decades behind the legal change; societies don’t change quickly. But Jewish society will be battered on the most awesome, most powerful idea of Western society, which erodes every obstacle and breaks down every wall: Amor vincit omnia, love conquers all. It’s not likely we’ll see something along the lines of American Jewry, but while intermarriage rates between Jews and Palestinians were about .004 in the late 1990s, it’s feasible we’ll see in a few decades five percent or more of intermarriages between the members of the majority society and the minority society.
And this is the great fear. Because, when we are down to brass tacks, every Zionist has an inner rabbinical Jew. Rabbinical Jews have 2,500 years of opposing intermarriage.
Which is why Gantz will run to the arms of Netanyahu before he will dare think of Ayman Odeh as a partner. This is why our good centrists, will choose Netanyahu’s autocracy or the jaded corruption of Liberman over Israeli Palestinians who just want to join the middle classes. That is what happens when your main value (“we’ll have to deal with Israeli Arabs”) is xenophobia.
Xenophobia is composed of two Greek words, xenos and phobia. We generally consider xenos to mean “foreigner”, but the ancient Greek is more ambivalent: Xenos means both “foreigner” and “guest.” Likewise, phobia means “fear”, but also “hatred.” We can turn the foreigner into a guest relatively easy; we can turn him into a citizen with some effort. This would require a deep and strong will to throw away old hatreds and fears. I doubt whether anyone in Blue White can understand this burden – much less lift it.