Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Make Netanyahu’s Day: Call Him a Racist

Netanyahu is a shameless opportunist. Brilliant at it, he is surely one of the great political opportunists of all time.

It is not accurate to call him a racist. Netanyahu has put more money into the Arab sector than any Prime Minister, not a symbolic but a substantial amount, 10 billion shekel ($2.56 billion, at the time), for economic development. He incites hatred against Israeli Arabs, for sure; the nation-state law; his horrific call to his base to come to the polls to counter the “quantities” of Arabs “flowing” to the polls in buses supposedly paid for by “leftists” (somehow, he manages to locate leftists when they elude most everyone else). That, and other such incitement that he tolerates from various of his ministers, including Gilad Erdan, the new Ambassador to DC, works for him– as it did in that election– and for them, so he and they do it. That is the danger.

He is no ideological racist, nor do his policies align with a racist designation. Racists would not court the Arab vote, which he is now doing. A sector of Israeli Arab society has voted Likud before this. That society is not homogeneous politically any more than it is  homogeneous religiously, economically, or sociologically. Some of them are the Likud profile and avid supporters of Likud, and of Netanyahu.

To be an Israeli Arab is not necessarily to be on the left, as some in the Joint List keep trying to tell us. MK Mansour Abbas makes this point persistently. Abbas, of the Ra’am party and head of the Joint List, is a supporter of the fundamentalist, theocractic, Muslim Brotherhood. He split bitterly with the List over tolerance of gays—the right to marry, to adopt, to use surrogacy; he and the haredi parties share more than one wavelength. Abbas recently fell into the same trap that Netanyahu has laid for so many, not least, Gantz, and is now paying the price, as so many of Netanyahu’s political victims have before him.

Abbas delivered a key Knesset vote for Netanyahu, when he was serving as Knesset Speaker a few weeks ago (apartheid?); a vote that spared Netanyahu action that would have hurt him politically, and figured, aren’t I the clever one? We’re political buddies now; he owes me. Instead, Netanyahu, like the reptilian he is, went right over Abbas’ head to Abbas’ base, appealing for their votes, saying that it is the Joint List that is anathema, not Arabs, and certainly not Arab voters, and that he will deliver results for them.

While Gantz, once upon a time, and Lapid lately, say they will do deals with the Joint List– accept their external support in order to deny Netanyahu the nod to do so– and thereby bring on themselves the electoral liability of association with the Joint List, all of whose parties are anti-Zionist, its leaders have paid condolence calls to the families of terrorists killed in the act– Netanyahu brilliantly leap frogs over that problem, leaving Lapid trapped in it, and goes on to court Arab votes. Which could deliver enough seats to make him unavoidable yet again, after yet another election, coming in March (unless he succeeds in using the plague he has mismanaged so miserably to postpone the election, per his longstanding wish, as he is managing to postpone his long-delayed trial).

Ayman Odeh, of the Joint List, for whom I have much respect if disagreeing with him on some important things, was on TV news a few nights ago railing against Abbas’ (erstwhile?) proclamation and strategy; heatedly insisting that just because he is Arab does not mean that he, like Jewish politicians, doesn’t have an ideology. Great, Ayman. See how that works for you, while your parties nose-dive in the polls and Netanyahu dances his way to them– the other kind of polls.

Mansour Abbas said, until Netanyhu took this line away: I will make deals with anyone who delivers for my sector, in particular, about the gun violence rampant in Arab Israeli communities. Netanyahu is promising now to do exactly that. Vote for Likud, he says, and I will.

That is not racism. For the real thing, see the pronouncements and maneuvers of MK Bezalel Smotrich, others in his camp, and a shamefully long list of certain rabbis. Netanyahu’s behavior is brilliant, ruthless, political opportunism. It may satisfy some ideological idee fixe to tar him as racist and all are entitled to their need-driven beliefs, even when they don’t accord with reality. To go after Netanyahu about this serves him perfectly because it ignores what he is really about and doing and possible ways to counter that in the real field of action. Distraction is number one on his play list. This one works beautifully for him.

Netanyahu happily makes deals with Arab leaders of foreign governments, meets with them, eats with them, etc. To our peril during the plague, he sends Israelis off on vacation (and, for too many male Israelis, on prostitution-procuring) trips to Dubai, etc. This is not racism. His issue is with Palestinian national-political claims, whether these come from inside or outside Israel. He is fine with occupation, with perpetuating the status quo– and delivering other benefits, real and imagined, so we keep quiet about occupation– and this has worked.

That, not racism, is what is going on, and that is what needs to be countered effectively if it is to end.

To the great distress of many of us, no party here, no leader so far, comes close to doing that. That is our problem in this political moment, and for too many years preceding this moment.

Netanyahu will remain Prime Minister—he has already made serving while under indictment for three serious crimes normal, just as he set out to do– until and unless someone figures out a strategy to bring this to an end.

Labelling him “racist”– well, go make his day.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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