Fred Maroun
A believer in peace and human dignity

Delay does not fix racism in Israeli government

Demonstration against judicial reforms (Jerusalem, 27 March 2023). Begin is Menachem Begin and End is Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: Nizzan Cohen / Wikimedia Commons)

While Israel’s democratic forces scored a victory by forcing the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the legal overhaul, the problem of racism within the Israeli government against Israelis of Arab origin did not get better but worse.

While Netanyahu was announcing the delay, extreme-right elements were assaulting journalists and Israeli Arabs. Following the assault, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi tweeted that “the police must prosecute anyone who attacks journalists. Don’t attack a journalist team, don’t use violence at all. This is a red line that no one must cross, ever!”. But there are several reasons to not find this promise comforting.

First of all, Karhi is the same minister who recently told IDF reservists who were protesting judicial overhaul to “go to hell”. Nice guy, eh?

Secondly, Karhi only mentioned attacks on journalists in his tweet and not attacks on Arabs.

But the problem is far deeper than Karhi. Even if we generously assume that Karhi’s intentions are good and that he simply forgot to mention Arabs, how is he going to do anything about the problem?

The man in charge of the police is far-right minister Itamar Ben Gvir. Does anyone really believe that he will crack down on violence committed by his own supporters (Labor party leader Merav Michaeli referred to the attackers as “Ben Gvir’s militias”)?

Worse than that, still. To appease Ben Gvir with regard to the delay in legal overhaul, Netanyahu promised him to create a “national guard” and put him in charge of it. This means that Ben Gvir, the apparent leader of the anti-Arab mob, is likely to get even more control over security. Great plan, right?

And let’s not forget that far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich who called for a whole Palestinian village to be wiped out and who recently declared that “there is no Palestinian people” (while standing behind a map that shows Jordan as part of Israel) is still a senior member of the government.

And far-right minister Orit Strock who recently advocated re-occupying the Gaza Strip despite admitting that it would cause “many casualties” is also still a minister in the Netanyahu government.

So, I don’t know what US officials were thinking when they said that Netanyahu is likely to be invited “relatively soon” to the White House. It is far too soon to reward Netanyahu. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should not have welcomed Netanyahu to 10 Downing Street either.

Not only is the delay only a temporary reprieve, and not only are some of the worst elements of this government’s agenda already passed (shielding Netanyahu from court-ordered recusal) or about to be passed despite the so-called delay (judicial selection bill), but the core problem within the Israeli government is far from resolved.

The core problem is that to regain power, Netanyahu brought to government the most extreme elements in Israeli society. This has not changed, and it shows no sign of changing. In fact, with Ben Gvir set to be given more powers over security, the problem is likely to become worse.

It is somewhat comforting to see that the popularity of Likud, Netanyahu’s party, has plunged as a result of his mishandling of the legal overhaul reforms, and that the popularity of National Unity party leader Benny Gantz has soared, but these polls mean little when there is no election in sight.

Netanyahu’s extreme right coalition must fall, and until that happens, Israel’s friends should keep up the pressure on the Israeli government rather than rewarding Netanyahu with such things as a visit to the White House.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and to defend itself. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities co-exist in peace with each other, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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