I recently went to listen to a panel discussion entitled ‘The progressive case for Israel’. The title was a bit of a hoax: ‘The case against Israel and Netanyahu’ would have been more honest, as the panelists – all coming with ‘progressive’ (read: hard left wing) credentials – spent the entire session bashing the country and vilifying the man.
Now, I never quite liked Netanyahu myself and I have even less time for the ultra-hawkish Lieberman and Bennett. Yet I experienced a strong urge to defend Bibi against what felt like an ad hominem, unfair and obsessive attack. I was not the only one who felt like that: once the session finished, an Israeli acquaintance caught my elbow. He seemed embarrassed. “Did you enjoy that?” I asked him, remembering his stalwart leftist views. “No”, he said, looking abashed. “I wanted Netanyahu to lose, but I have nothing in common with these guys. I’m not like that…” he said – and grimaced.
Well, I don’t blame him: ‘those guys’ got on my nerves, too. To start with, declaring your views ‘progressive’ implies that anyone who disagrees with them is a bloody reactionary caveman. And implying something like that is not the best way to make friends; nobody likes an arrogant twit!
Then, one may like or dislike the results; but at least there were democratic elections in Israel – something that her neighbours could only dream of. One would think that ‘progressives’ would appreciate and praise democracy; but no time was wasted on such inconsequential details.
Instead, one of the panelists claimed that Netanyahu won because of his ‘policies of fear’. He certainly did talk to Israelis’ fears; but so did every one of his opponents, who described in their campaigns all the terrible catastrophes that would befall Israel, should Netanyahu win again. Politicians – of every tinge and in every country – appeal to the hopes and, yes, the fears of their constituents. One may wonder why Israelis are more receptive to fear than to hope. Well, it may be experience; or perhaps it may have to do with its current neighbours: in addition to the old (and not very friendly!) ones, the most recent neighbopurs include Hamas, Hizb’ullah, Islamic Jihad, ISIS and Al-Nusra Front. It’s rather easy to condemn ‘policies of fear’ when one’s butt is in the warm embrace of a cosy armchair in London; ‘courage in the face of adversity’ is rather cheap when there’s little adversity around and quite a few thousand miles divide between progressive neck and the nearest reactionary ISIS knife!
But one of the progressives’ biggest complaints was Netanyahu’s ‘racism’, his unforgivable assault on his fellow citizens of Arab ethnicity.
Let us first recount the facts: on the day of the Israeli elections (March 17), a visibly exhausted Netanyahu posted on Facebook a video with the following desperate appeal to his supporters that:
The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going to the polls in huge numbers. Leftist organisations are bringing them in by bus. Gentlemen, we do not have V15 [an allusion to the foreign-funded organisation that campaigned against Netanyahu]. We only have ‘Order 8’ [a hint to a situation of national emergency symbolised by the emergency mobilisation order]; we only have you. Get out the vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud so we can close the gap between us and the Labour Party…
Of course, accusing a political opponent (or even a sector of Israel’s society) of foul play is nothing new in politics – and certainly not in Israeli politics: left wing parties often accuse the right of ‘extremism’; in previous elections, militant secularist parties had alleged that ‘ultra-Orthodox’ party Shas unethically ‘bribed’ voters by offering them amulets blessed by a famous rabbi… For some reason, nobody cried ‘racism’ then. Yet the reference to ‘Arab voters’ caused an audible global gasp. Among the first to react was former Labour leader Shelly Yakhimovich, who wrote on Facebook
…no Western leader would dare let such a racist text come out of his mouth. Imagine if the prime minister or president of any democratic country would warn that his government is in danger because, for example, ‘black voters are going en-masse to the polls.’
Others were quick to adopt the metaphor. For instance, in the UK, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. Who, however, starts by ‘tweaking’ a bit Netanyahu’s words, to make them sound worse than they were:
On election day itself, he sank lower still. In a Facebook video, he posed in front of a map of the Middle East, as if in a war room, and used the idiom of military conflict to warn that ‘Arab voters are advancing in large numbers towards voting places’ and that this was ‘a call-up order’ for Likud supporters to head to the polling stations.
Of course, Netanyahu did not say “advancing”, he said “going”; and the ‘military conflict’ argument is more than a bit contrived. But a true ‘progressive’ won’t let the truth stand in the way of a good argument, will he? So Freedland continues:
A prime minister was describing the democratic participation of one-fifth of the country he governs in the language of a military assault to be beaten back.
Imagine if a US president broadcast such a message, warning the white electorate that black voters were heading to the polls in ‘large numbers’. Or if a European prime minister said: ‘Quick, the Jews are voting!’ This is the moral gutter into which Netanyahu plunged just to get elected.
From the pages of the Time magazine, Joe Klein wails even louder:
He won because he ran as a bigot. This is a sad reality: a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews.
Klein does acknowledge that
They [the ‘great many Jews’] have had cause. There have been wars, indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side, plus loathsome genocidal statements from the Iranians and others.
But Klein dismisses details like “overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side” and “genocidal statements” in a couple of lines, to make room for the real subject: vilifying Netanyahu and the Israeli society as a whole. And, again in true ‘progressive’ style, not in the writers own name, but in that of unspecified ‘many’:
There will be many – in the Muslim world, in Europe – who will say that the results are no surprise, that Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state.
Now, I think that Arab Israelis should be equal citizens, with equal rights under the law and in practice; that they should be free to keep and develop their own cultural and linguistic identity, as a recognised and respected ethnic and religious minority within the Jewish State.
That is the goal. But then, there is reality. This is not a ‘race’ issue; Arabs are not a ‘race’ and neither are Jews. They are two nations locked – for almost a century now – in a bitter (and, at least from the Jewish perspective, existential) conflict. Arab Israelis are not like African Americans; nor is their situation similar to that of European Jews. Here’s a comparison that bears resemblance to reality: imagine that, at the peak of the cold war, 20% of American citizenry would have been made up of ethnic Russians; imagine also that the elected representatives of these Russian Americans express complete sympathy for the Soviet Union. Actually… you know what – you don’t need to imagine anything; because history leaves little room or need for imagination.
Just two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President F.D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the rounding up of US citizens of Japanese ancestry and their forced ‘internment’ (read: detention) in 10 camps. Most of these Japanese Americans were loyal citizens who’d never expressed support for Japan. Yet ethnicity rendered them a perceived security risk. So 120,000 men, women and children were ‘evacuated’ (read: deported) from their homes into makeshift ‘internment camps’.
Between 1939 and 1940, tens of thousands of Germans, Austrians and Italians were rounded up in Britain and ‘interned’. Most of them languished in makeshift camps on the Isle of Man; others were deported to Canada and Australia. Many were actually Jewish and therefore certainly did not harbour Nazi sympathies; but in the face of the perceived security situation, making such fine distinctions was seen as an unacceptable risk…
Both Klein (an American citizen) and Freedland (a British subject) must be familiar with these historical facts; yet both choose to ignore them in favour of the ‘juicier’ – but distinctly libelous – ‘race’ metaphor.
So was Netanyahu’s remark a good thing? Well, feel free to say that it was ill-advised, divisive, stupid if you wish. But was it ‘racist’? How, exactly? Netanyahu made absolutely no attempt to prevent Arab Israelis from voting; he just urged his own supporters to get the vote out. He did not even criticise Arab Israelis for voting en-bloc along ethnic lines, or for voting against him – his barbs were directed not at Arabs, but at fellow Jews: ‘leftist organisations’ and the Labour Party, his political opponents.
And then there are ‘circumstances’; there always are in the Middle East. Netanyahu – and with him many in Israel – perceived an unwarranted and blatant attempt by foreign governments to interfere in Israeli elections. And it is already clear that those perceptions were far from baseless. As I write these lines, a bi-partisan US Senate committee is investigating ‘donations’ made by the Obama Administration – allegedly in violation of US law – to anti-Netanyahu organisations. And if Obama’s interference may ironically (but only ironically) be dubbed ‘a friendly intervention’, that irony dissipates when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also feels entitled to weigh in:
We welcome the Joint [Arab] List and wish them much success. This is not interference [in Israel’s internal affairs] … it is our right as members of the same nation to [endorse] them.
And it’s not just Mahmoud Abbas, either; Hamas has also urged Arab Israelis to vote for the Joint Arab List. And why not? The List includes the Islamic Movement in Israel, whose members (especially those belonging to the Northern Branch) are – unofficially but rather obviously – Hamas sympathisers. Three Islamic Movement activists were elected this time and will sit as legislators in Israel’s Parliament.
They are not the only ones. Another prominent member of the Joint Arab List, Haneen Zoabi, is notorious for her brazen abuse of Israeli democracy to provide ‘inside support’ for the country’s existential enemies. Below are some of her statements.
About Hamas: “Hamas is not a terrorist organisation”.
On the ‘hope’ for Israeli Arabs: “I have a vision of our rights as indigenous people. We didn’t migrate to Israel; it is Israel that migrated to us.”
About the Iranian nuclear programme: “… if the world doesn’t prevent Israel from having nuclear weapons, why does it prevent others?”
On the two-state solution: “… it’s unrealistic to have a real sovereign state in the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as the capital. The more realistic solution is one state with full national equality for both national groups.”
On the concept of ‘Jewish State’: “When you agree with the ‘Jewish state’ idea, you necessarily agree with the idea of loyalty to this state. Rejecting the ‘Jewish state’ concept will block the road for anyone who demands our loyalty to such a state.”
About Israeli centre and right-wing party leaders: “A bunch of fascists pure and simple”.
Another notorious figure among Arab Israeli Members of Parliament is Dr. Ahmad Tibi. Prior to becoming an Israeli legislator, Tibi had been a political adviser to PLO leader Yasser Arafat and an official representative of the Palestinian Authority at the 1998 Wye River negotiations. Tibi, who has served in the Israeli Parliament continuously since 1999, supports the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but also the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to ‘return’ to Israel; he called Israel’s self-definition as the Jewish State ‘racist’ and demanded that Jewish symbols be taken off the country’s flag and the national anthem.
And it’s not just words and opinions, either. In 2006, Arab Member of the Knesset Azmi Bishara conducted a series of telephone talks with Hizb’ullah operatives in Lebanon. Alerted, Israeli security services intercepted conversations in which Bishara advised that attacking Israel with long-range missiles would “serve Hizbullah goals”. Bishara proceeded to advise his interlocutors which locations in Israel should be targeted. Bishara was suspected of having received considerable amounts of money in return for his ‘advice’, which was given only days before the 2006 military confrontation between Hizb’ullah and Israel (a confrontation in which 44 Israeli civilians were killed by Hizb’ullah missiles). When the investigation of his activities became public, Bishara used his diplomatic passport to flee the country – and was soon awarded Qatari citizenship.
In short, if some Jews in Israel view Arab Israeli parliamentarians with suspicion, that is not without reason. Nor is it unreasonable for politicians like Netanyahu to view with displeasure the votes (and the voters) that got such ‘representatives’ elected.
In fact, in any of the Arab countries surrounding Israel, such ‘representatives’ would have carefully toed the prescribed line – or faced some very, very unpleasant consequences. In Israel, they are at most treated to words that might slight them. Yet it is Israel that, in Joe Klein’s rather obliquely expressed opinion, has “become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state”. How strange!
Of course, a wise Prime Minister must choose well the words he uses to voice his displeasure. But equally, honest people (even political opponents) must not selectively quote and should not seize on ill-chosen words to misrepresent positions. After all, the same Netanyahu said:
We must create conditions that will enable the full integration of graduates from the Arab sector in the labour market. The Arab sector is a main growth engine for the Israeli economy, which has yet to be fully utilised, and I believe that their integration into the labour market will contribute not only to the Arab sector, but to the State of Israel as a whole.
Again, it’s not just words. In November 2014, Bloomberg reported:
Only one in five of Israeli Arabs with a computer science degree works in the field, and a new government program is trying to change that. As part of a push to add 300,000 jobs in the Israeli Arab sector by 2020, the Ministry of Economy has budgeted more than 40 million shekels ($10.5 million) over the next three years to integrate one of the country’s fastest-growing populations into its most promising industry. […] The sum the government has earmarked for the technology jobs program is part of a total 1.2 billion shekels allotted to encourage Arab employment.
Somehow, both the quote and the facts above have ‘mysteriously’ escaped the attention of Messrs. Freeland and Klein! They are not terribly interested in facts, unless those facts can be deployed as ‘evidence’ of ‘racism’.
But the fact is that Jews and Arabs are in the midst of a long and bitter conflict. The fact is that there are daily expressions of unequivocal anti-Semitism throughout the Arab world, which hardly elicit a bored shrug from pundits. The fact is that, throughout the same Arab world, millennium-old Jewish communities were expelled or persecuted into non-existence. The fact is that, despite all that, in Israel Arabs are citizens, equal under the law, endowed with the right to vote – even the right to elect existential enemies to the country’s Parliament. The fact is that Arabs in the Jewish state are, to date, the only Arabs endowed with meaningful political rights. The fact is that in the Jewish state there are Arab university professors, lawyers, ministers, consuls, Supreme Court judges…
Not that everything is peachy; there is much, much to improve. While the law decrees equality of all citizens, in reality there is still inequality; there is discrimination; there is also racism. But, how is Israel different in that respect from USA, UK, Sweden, etc. etc.? If anything, given the existential threat they operate under, Israelis can claim extenuating circumstances unavailable to Americans, Brits or Swedes.
But all these facts are willfully ignored by that ilk of ‘progressives’. When it comes to Israel – and only when it comes to Israel – some holier-than-thou politicians and pundits become obsessed with ‘racism’. They jump through incredible hoops to find racism, whether real or imaginary, in the Jewish state. And not just that: racism in USA, UK or Sweden is usually described as a marginal phenomenon, harboured by a minority of the population; in contrast, any suspicion of racism in Israel is reflexively and maliciously exploited to malign the Israeli society as a whole.
But why? Because for some people ‘exposing racist Jews’ is liberating; they really need Jews to be guilty of racism, because it frees their conscience from the pangs – well-hidden but nagging nonetheless – caused by their own anti-Jewish prejudice. If Jews are ‘racist’, then there is, you see, a good reason to dislike them.
As for the likes of Klein and Freedland… well, the poor things just want to be loved. These assimilated Jews are like battered wives: the more abuse is flung at them, the more they blame themselves for causing it.