“Drink cyanide, bloody Neanderthals. You won. Only death will save you from yourselves.”
By the time the author of these words, an award-winning writer called Alona Kimhi, had deleted them from her Facebook page, it was too late. The blogosphere was buzzing, and Facebook and Twitter heaved with similar enraged disgust, even hatred, accusing Netanyahu and his supporters of racism. Some Israelis even started a campaign called ‘Lo latet’ to stop donating charity to the poor: They deserved punishment for perversely supporting the Right, even when Netanyahu’s ‘capitalist policies’ hurt them most.
Netanyahu’s ‘racist’ comments pandered to his racist supporters. He had exhorted them to come out and vote because ‘Arabs were being bussed to the polling stations in their droves’.
But the Zionist Union’s own chairman, Yitzhak Herzog, blamed a speaker at his party rally the previous week for the Zionist Union’s defeat: artist Yair Garbuz had derided the “talisman kissers” and “tomb worshippers” who support Netanyahu.
His remarks were taken to refer to the country’s traditionalist Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent. But, argued columnist Ben Dror Yemini, Garbuz was not the only one who harboured these condescending thoughts. The Ashkenazi-dominated Israeli establishment – writers, artists, dramatists, media people, academics – must crush its ‘inner elitist’.
The Garbuz moment unleashed the ‘ethnic demon’ into the election campaign, Yemini opined. That was the moment when the Israeli election became about identity politics.
“There’s no question that the speech given by Garbuz hurt us,” Zionist Union chairman Yitzhak Herzog admitted.
Although he did not distance himself from Garbuz’s comments at the time, Herzog said he ‘did not subscribe to those beliefs’.
“I have nothing to do with Garbuz. “I have a golden rule – never to criticize beliefs and opinions, or to insult someone for their faith.”
A chastened former Labour leader Shelly Yafimovitch appeared on Israeli TV. She bitterly regretted Yair Garbuz’s words, and promised change.
Even before the election, far leftist commentator Dimi Reider wrote that the Garbuz episode showed something was seriously rotten in the state of the Left. The Israeli electorate has not voted in a Labour government since 1999. If they are ever to win back voters from Likud, the Left needs to do some serious soul-searching.
But Dimi Reider still failed to put his finger on the Mizrahi malaise. Is it pride and pugnaciousness? Or simply fear?
Call it fear – but it is fear grounded in bitter experience.
All Israelis have experienced Hamas rockets and Arab terrorism, but only the Mizrahim carry the memory of what it was like to have lived in Arab countries and to have been brutally displaced from them.
The average Likud voter has not forgotten the ‘Jewish Nakba’. He and his family were dispossessed and uprooted from Morocco or Iraq, but antisemitism still haunts and hounds his tiny corner of the Middle East.
Hamas, Hezbollah and the beheaders of ISIS hover on Israel’s doorstep while Iran rattles its nuclear sabre.
Israel would be mad to go the route of political concession and show weakness, the Neanderthals reasoned. There is no compromise with genocidal jihad. It’s a no-brainer.