I don’t accept the apology

I was asked why I don’t accept the Prime Minister’s apology to the Arab citizens. Here’s why.

First of all, on Election Day he made it personal. Alongside many others, I have been working days and nights in recent years to create hope for a shared society in Israel. On Election Day, the Prime Minister brought the level of incitement and demagogic intimidation against the Arab citizens to an all-time record high. Behind him was a map of the Arab states, intended to revive all the fears of Jews from Arabs, and in his mouth words against the Arab citizens – our partners in civic life and in the state. It will take us a long time to undo the damage that he did.

Besides, if he would have really liked to apologize properly, he needed to apologize first to someone very different from his invitees, who were a group of Arab supporters of his party, loudly chanting “Bibi, Bibi” at his apology (sounds unbelievable? Watch the video yourselves). Netanyahu needs to apologize to the legitimate representative leadership of Arab citizens. Had he the courage, he would have called Ayman Odeh and the rest of the Joint List leadership or the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab citizens of Israel. Most certainly, they wouldn’t have applauded him, and it is rather doubtful that they would have accepted his apology. But if he had one ounce of courage, and a desire to build better relations between the state and its Arab citizens, he would have called these leaders, apologized and opened up a dialogue with them.

I and all the other Jewish citizens also deserve an apology. We will have no future in this land, neither for Jews nor for Arabs, if we do not succeed in building a society based on equality, democracy and a shared life. On Election Day, Netanyahu damaged the prospects for building such a future.

Furthermore, apologies are not enough. This isn’t a case of forgive and forget. Apologizing by itself is insufficient; you need to demonstrate that you’ve abandoned the wrong path. Netanyahu should have come up with a number of very strong commitments to prove that his apology was genuine. For example, a commitment not to appoint Avigdor Liberman, who persistently slanders the Arab citizens and incites against them (without ever apologizing!), as a cabinet minister. Netanyahu could also commit to sit down with the leaders of the Joint List on a monthly basis, and hear what the Arab citizens really expect from the government. Certainly he needs to undertake not to advance any bill that harms the rights of Arab citizens. He could also commit to concrete policy steps to reduce budgetary discrimination against Arab citizens. But he did none of that. He just apologized.

To cap it all, there is Bibi’s language, his terminology. For years we have been trying to tell government authorities to stop talking about “members of minorities”. They need to call the Arabs by their name – they are A-R-A-B-S! It is not really pleasant for them to remember the catastrophic circumstances that turned them into a minority, and to be framed as only one of several “Minorities”. They are also not “the Arab, Druze and Circassian Communities”, or the repulsive term “the non-Jewish sector”. We have tried to change this, but with very limited success. Even when the government implemented positive initiatives, it called them “economic development plans for the Minorities Sector”. But on Election Day our dreams finally came true in terms of terminology. Netanyahu called the Arabs by their name — the A-R-A-B-S are rushing in droves to vote, the Prime Minister said. Now, when he came to apologize, he managed to utter the expression “Israeli Arabs” only once, and the rest of the time he alluded again and again to the “Minorities”, reminding them very well of their place.

I am not an Arab. As a Jew, I do not accept this apology.

About the Author
Ron Gerlitz is the co-executive director of Sikkuy-The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality