The other day I wrote a hopeful– and wrong– article saying that the smashing success in the Israeli election of the Palestinian Joint List might spell the end of the Netanyahu era, because the Jewish party Blue-White would be able to put together a “minority government” with the support of the 15 Palestinian legislators.
Within hours that hope was smashed by the refusal of three Jewish lawmakers in the opposition to Netanyahu to be part of any government that is dependent on Palestinians. The conventional wisdom is that Netanyahu will stay prime minister. Even as he puts up billboards that spread hatred against Palestinians.
The manifest racism has been a big event in Israeli politics. “Two Refined Racists From [Benny] Gantz’s Party Foil His Chance at Replacing Netanyahu,” Haaretz headlined an article. In the Jerusalem Post, former PM Ehud Olmert repeatedly called out the politicians for “racist policy” and said intolerance was putting the entire country at risk. “Racism Is Fueling Israel’s Paralysis,” Mitchell Plitnick writes at Responsible Statecraft. While our own Jonathan Ofir titled his account, “Israel’s electoral struggle for racial purity.”
Even the New York Times finally covered the story. Though the Times story plays down the politicians’ racism, it can’t avoid the central fact: “Netanyahu could be ousted if Jewish lawmakers accept Arab support. But to many Israelis, that is unthinkable.”
This is not a new trend. The same electoral racism got Israel to a third election following the deadlock in the election last September, when the Joint List had only 13 seats; and today’s racist deadlock involving 15 Joint List seats may lead to a fourth election.
The most disturbing thing about the impasse is just how acceptable racism is in Israeli Jewish politics. An op-ed writer in a leading paper says that the Palestinians’ success is democracy “run amok,” and Benny Gantz attempted a “putsch” by trying to work with them. “This is an educated, buttoned-up, cultured racism,” Yossi Verter writes in Haaretz of the two refined racists in Gantz’s own Blue-White party. “[Yoaz] Hendel… comes from a culture of ‘concerts in Vienna.'” But the idea of serving in a government supported by Palestinians gives him “chills.”
As for the third crucial racist, Orly Levy-Abekasis was elected to the Knesset in a partnership of her party with Labor and Meretz. Meretz is the most leftwing Jewish party there is. The Meretz leaders have attacked Levy-Abekasis for her betrayal, but so what. Why did they throw in with this rightwing politician in the first place? Why did they build that political alliance by demoting a Palestinian legislator, Issawi Freij, so that he wasn’t reelected?
Meretz’s collapse demonstrates that there is no vitality in the Jewish Zionist left. The Palestinian Joint List is the only address for progress in Israel. “There is no life, no existence for the Israel left and even center without the partnership with the Israeli Arabs,” an Israeli politician told J Street in a video conference.
Ehud Olmert also says that Palestinian politicians are all that can save Israel, but it’s an uphill battle in a society that doesn’t see Palestinians as equals.
It’s time for change. It’s time for everyone to change their mindset and accept that Israeli Arabs have changed their strategy. They are bona fide citizens of Israel and they are finally ready to exercise their rights and take an active role in the legitimate and democratic political process that is the lifeblood of Israeli society.
This tragedy is also an American one. The racism gets very little coverage among liberals in the United States. The New York Times leaves Levy-Abekasis and Meretz out of its story.
Imagine if the Democratic Party elected politicians who refused to work with black leaders. The outrage would be neverending here.
Liberal Zionists are accountable because Meretz leaders are always stars at their events, showing American Jews the good face of Israel. But liberal Zionist organizations are not decrying the racism. I have seen no denunciations of Zvi Hauser, Hendel and Levy-Abekasis– let alone formal statements on the crisis of bigotry — from Americans for Peace Now, J Street, or the Israel Policy Forum. They are putting their energy into trying to elect a “progressive” slate to the World Zionist Congress. Fiddling while Rome burns.
American liberal Zionists are Jewish nationalists, so they seem to accept that this is the price of having a “Jewish democracy.” At Israel Policy Forum, Michael Koplow is in favor of Blue-White making a new government with the “outside” support of the 15 Joint List votes, but he also includes arguments against their inclusion:
There are plenty of reasons to oppose the Joint List’s inclusion in a coalition, from questions about their MKs’ past behavior and statements to Balad’s ongoing refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Zionism to MK Heba Yazbak’s paeans to terrorists such as Samir Kuntar….
If you think the Joint List should not be part of Israel’s politics, that is your right to believe and to express. Some of the Joint List’s policy positions are obviously objectionable
By Koplow’s standard, few Jewish politicians of Israel would survive the cut… But Koplow says that American Jews should celebrate the fact that Israeli Jewish parties hold “all of Israel’s political power.”
Israeli Jewish parties hold all of Israel’s political power and have thoroughly defeated any attempt to erase Zionism and eradicate the Jewish state. We should all be grateful for that and celebrate it wholeheartedly.
There is good reason that the Joint List is not Zionist. Palestinians have been ethnically cleansed by Israel for more than 70 years and the process continues merrily along today in the West Bank. It is inarguable at this point that second- and third-class status for non-Jews is in the very constitution of the idea of Jewish democracy. Liberal Americans who support Israel can’t afford to face that truth. They are hanging on to a romance about the country, even as it is roiled by racism.