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.