The Arabs Are Coming, The Arabs Are Coming (Israel Elections 2015)

Netanyahu racist

I don’t embarrass easily, not about Israel and not about much else. But this one broke the camel’s back. You can watch the disgusting episode here. I don’t imagine that this clip will soon be forgotten. Soft and hurried, like he’s whispering into the microphone. Psst, hey, the Arabs are swarming to the polls. Get out and vote Likud. Save the country. As Prime Minister Netanyahu puts together a narrow rightwing and ultra-orthodox coalition, this time let’s hope that the center-left lets the right go about its business without providing them a life-line. Now’s the time for clean bright lines, and for drawing new ones.

A lot is going to be said about “the people.” Because the people have indeed voted, and so one must learn to live with the new articulation of reality. What then does the people look like as represented in the new Knesset?

It depends upon how you run up the numbers.

On the one hand, if you add up the genuinely righ twing parties (44 seats) plus Kulanu, Shas, and United Torah, you’ve got 67 seats. This represents the strong and stable government of a pariah people. On the other hand, let’s whistle in the wind, and count the numbers like this. If you add up Labor, the United List, Yeish Atid, and Meretz  along with Kulanu, Shas, and United Torah you’ve got a Knesset representation of 76  seats as opposed to 44 seats for the out and out racists and West Bank annexationists –Likud, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu).  These to me represent “the true Israel,” the Israel worth fighting for, the political forces that have always made Israel such an interesting place. They are liberal Ashkenzai, Sephardic working class and lower middle class, Arab-Palestinian.

I understand the political realities running up against and over the center-left and left in Israel. But I’d add two caveats. One caveat involves Moshe Kahalon and the Kulanu party, which ran on a social equality plank. The other caveat involves the Joint List that pulled together ex-communist, Palestinian nationalist, and Islamist splinter parties and formed them into a large voting block. Assuming that Kahalon lets him, I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu can now put together a narrow right wing—ultra orthodox collation. I also understand that no less than the Jewish parties, the Joint List has no interest in joining a left-center and left Zionist government –for now.

As I read into the numbers, what I find interesting about them is that they reflect something about new, possible (possible, not immediately actual) future political alignments. Now that the Palestinian Israeli parties have united into a single list capable of pulling 14 seats, they are no longer a negligible political force –as they once were when fragmented into separate small parties.  Their vote matters like never before, and I would like to think that they are not going to be easily ignored, especially not by the Zionist center left and left.

Part of the problems that beset the Israeli left and center-left and the Palestinian-Israeli political camps are of their own making. Looking towards the future, both camps need to work on normalizing relations between Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, religious and secular, Jewish and Muslim, and also Christian, and to do so around economic and social issues with a firm eye towards ending the occupation of the West Bank –by creating a two-state confederation or creating a single state with democratic rights for everyone. This means breaking deeply engrained taboos against Arab participation in the Israeli political system. With 14 seats in the Knesset, this seems not an unrealistic possibility as the center left and left in Israel wakes up to new realities.

There’s no way out of this short of normalization and the creation of new alignments. “The Arabs are coming, the Arabs are coming.” Only they can save Israeli democracy, can save “the Jewish State,” can save Israel from turning once and for all into an apartheid country ruling over an occupied people in the West Bank with no right to political participation. The demons that Netanyahu conjured need to be embraced openly. I don’t think there’s any other option than to start whistling in the wind. Mutual recognition starts at home. If this end up meaning a one state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem, we can either blame that on Prime Minister Netanyahu or thank him for it.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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14 Responses to The Arabs Are Coming, The Arabs Are Coming (Israel Elections 2015)

  1. milx says:

    I have a few thoughts about this, but my primary one is that Bibi obviously wants a one-state solution (or at the very least Bennett does – who knows what Bibi really wants). A one-state solution that includes suffrage + citizenship for any WB residents that want it is, supposedly, what the BDS camp wants as well. The realignment might end up being 1 state (made up of the right-wing and the left-wing) v. two stater liberal Zionists + Palestinian nationalists.

    • zjb says:

      But I don’t think Netanyahu and Bennet want a democratic 1ss including suffrage and citizenship.

      • milx says:

        I think Bibi and Bennett want Israel to encompass all of Judea & Samaria while retaining its Jewish democratic majority. If the demographics are there, I don’t see why they’d be opposed to suffrage + citizenship for all residents of J&S.

  2. Michael says:

    Amazing how the “out and out racists” of Likud and Israel Beiteinu have recieved many votes in the Druze towns and villages. Perhaps it demonstrates that Israel is an open society, that welcomes people regardless of their religion. After all, the Druze serve with pride in the Israeli army and police, and Druze like Ayoob Khara and Hamad Amar are respected and valued MP’s for Likud and Israel Beiteinu respectively.

    I don’t think you have a firm understanding of Israeli politics. Kulanu runs on a social agenda, but its firmly in the Jewish-nationalist camp, as far as Jewish-Arab relations are concerned. So its best described as national-socialist party. Shas and United Torah are openly racist, defining themselves by the color of the skin of their voters. Racism is rampant in the Ultraorthodox communities, Jewish-internal racism as well as anti-Arab racism. Yesh Atid and Meretz “working class and lower middle class”? This is the educated elite you’re talking about, not a bunch of proletarians. Perhaps you need to spend a few years living in Israel, visiting is obviously not enough to understand the subtleties of Israeli society.

    • evets says:

      He wasn’t saying that ‘working class and lower middle class’ voters supported Meretz and Yesh Atid, merely that they were among those who supported the seven parties he mentioned. I think he’s pretty clear on the demographics. You have to willfully misread that paragraph to conclude otherwise. I’d also wager that he understands Kulanu’s stance vis a vis the Palestinians.

      • Michael says:

        The majority of the Likud’s voters are “working class and lower middle class” – not that these definitons actually mean much in a post-industrial society. In the paragraph as I read it, United Torah’s voters are also included in “working class” – funny, considering very few of them actually work, and that’s the main concern of Yesh Atid.

        To me it sounds like the wailing song of a bad loser – its a leftist tradition to lament anything except a left-wing victory as “end of democracy”. Well, in my understanding of democracy, the right can also win.

        To remind you, not so long ago, just before these elections, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah (led by Zipi Livni) were major partners of the Likud-led coalition. Was that still “the Israel worth fighting for” or is Israel worth fighting for can only be led by a left-wing PM?

      • zjb says:

        Sure the right can win, but there are rules, words mean something, and they carry consequences. Yeish Atid and Ha-Tnuah sitting with Netanyahu was a disaster that didn’t end well. It gave Netanyahu a fig leaf. Now it looks like he’s on his own with Bennet and Liberman. Let’s wish him good luck. He’ll find out soon enough how much Israel needs the left –especially if they pick up and leave the country in “droves.”

      • Michael says:

        So who’s running a campaign of fear now? Threats is all you’ve got left I guess.

      • zjb says:

        Michael, why the nastiness in your posts?

      • Michael says:

        Seriously, Zack? You just called me and a bunch of other Israeli’s “out and out racists”, and you dare call my posts “nasty”?

        Your threats of “the left” leaving the country in “droves” do sound like a horrible perspective. Imagine Israel being left without teachers of modern Jewish philosophy! We’re doomed, I tell you, doomed!

        The arrogance, self-admiration and complete incapacity for self-reflection are the reasons why the Israeli left has no influence in Israeli politics. The Israeli public does not believe their sweet-talk and is disgusted by their loathing of all things Jewish (see the “mezuza-kissers” remark). Therefore, the left got its ass kicked in a very democratic fashion. Not being able to admit defeat, the left, including you, resorts to throwing dung on the opponent. And you call me “nasty”? Pretty weak, ain’t it?

      • zjb says:

        Michael, It’s your tone directed at me to which I’m objecting. If I’ve said nasty things about others, not once have I directed one at you personally, –until yesterday and now above when, frankly I think you went way over the top. Re: Liberman or Bennet, they’re pros. They can take it. I can call them out and out racists because they’ve proven themselves as such; and the Prime Minister’s words were appalling, as even Pres. Rivlin seems to have suggested. As for the U.S. left and liberal left abandoning Israel to the right, that’s not a threat. It’s a prediction. We’ll see what happens if in fact Netanyahu forms a narrow rightwing-haredi coalition. At any rate, Likud beating Labor 30-24 is not quite the loss you chalk it up to be. As for leftwing anti-Mizrachi racism, I have no truck whatsover. The left obviously has many hard lessons to learn. But re: your own ad hominem words, I’d suggest getting a grip.

      • Michael says:

        “out and out racists and West Bank annexationists –Likud, Jewish Home, Israel Beiteinu” – your accusations are not personal, you’re demonizing and delegitimatizing a whole political spectrum. The parties, their members and their voters. You refuse to acknowledge that an opinion other than yours has a right to exist, and paint those who disagree with you as ignorant racist shmoks – yeah, that’s personal.

        As to the predictions – I remember vividly how (perhaps you remember as well) not so long ago, the left has hysterically cried that the famous “window of opportunity” to make peace with Syria was rapidly closing. All we had to do was to give Assad the Golan Heights and the age of Aquarius was upon us. Now the Syrian carnage is entering its 5th year, the Likud is winning in the elections at the Druze village of Majdl Shams on the Golan – that’s what I call Irony! So you’ll excuse me if I take your predictions with a grain of salt the size of a small planet.

      • zjb says:

        No, not at all. I’m not demonizing a entire political sector, just its leadership based on deeds and their spoken record. About the left and its complete failure to bridge ethnic and racial gaps, I am perfectly aware. But no, I’ve never demonized people or sectors, just politicians. And I think I’ve named names or particular actors, or at least insinuated. I don”t think I’ve ever talked about rightwingers as generically as you talk about “leftists.” As for my predictions, I never predicted anything about Syria back in the day. But I can say that there were all kinds of serious security-people people interested in cutting a deal with Syria, including Barak and Netanyahu himself if the reports are correct. But the occupation of the Golan Heights, no one ever cared, not even leftists. As you well know this is because the occupation of the Golan Heights does not present the same level of political, diplomatic, and moral challenge to the existence of the State of Israel as does the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. I do think, however, it’s easy to predict a political-diplomatic catastrophe if Netanyahu forms a narrow right-haredi government. About this I was right when I predicted as such when Netanyahu brought Liberman into his second government 6 years (?) ago. So let’s see what happens. My bet is that Netanyau runs to Herzog to set up the next government because the alternative is unthinkable. I would hope Herzog insists that Bennet and Lieberman stay out. If that happens, with the Joint List as head of the opposition, we could then be in a position to say that the left won the elections.

      • Michael says:

        So do you just “predict” the catastrophe or are you doing all in your power to make it happen? I’m not sure you’re following the news from Israel, but Herzog ruled out joining a Netaniyahu-led coalition. With posters such as “its us or HIM” used in the left-wing campaign, its hard to see how he could do otherwise. Even if he’d swap position, or resign (what seems like a logical step), Herzog is in no position to make demands.

        Actually, you and your friends will be flogging the Israeli government no matter what. Just a couple of months ago, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah were valuable members of the cabinet, holding the Ministries of Finance, Education and Justice among others. They were no “fig leaf” as you suggested, unless fig leafs come in super-size nowadays – 25 out of 68 sits is more that 1/3rd of the coalition. Still the Bibi-led cabinet was spared no wrath.

        The Joint List, by the way, refuse to recommend Herzog as a PM, just as Yesh Atid does. So the last tally is 67 MP’s recommending Netaniyahu as the next PM, 24 recommending Herzog and the rest is not recommending anyone. Even supposing the Joint List and Meretz would support the “Zionist” left, that’s still 67 vs 42 MP’s (Yesh Atid is a centrist party, not left by all means). If that’s not a resounding victory for the right, I do not know what is.

        And I would suggest working together with Bibi and making his life easy, because otherwise the next PM might be Lieberman or Bennett, who’d have to rely on the support of Baruch Marzel for a majority – how about that for a scenario?

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