Explaining Bibi's 'The Arabs are Voting' to the West18 Mar 2015
Now that Netanyahu’s victory has been accepted (grudgingly) as fact by the media, there has been a rush to explain the how this possibly could have happened. Haviv Rettig Gur of the Times of Israel pointed out that despite its loss, the “Israeli left, to be sure, did better than it has done in almost a generation,” before explaining not only why it wasn’t enough, but what they could do differently. But the Israel haters over at Haaretz and the New York Times were interested in no such introspection.
“An Israeli Election Turns Ugly” declared the NYTimes editorial board:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis.
The professional self-flagellator, Bradley Burston of Haaretz kept it going with “As an Israeli, I am ashamed that my prime minister is a racist”:
I am ashamed to know that the prime minister of Israel is either a racist, which is a horrible thought, or that he incites racism in others for the sake of votes - which is worse.
Jeffrey Goldberg or the Atlantic joined the chorus with “Bibi Deploys the Southern Strategy,” who, after celebrating Israel’s diverse democracy, including the fact that the Supreme Court Justice in charge of elections is, in fact, an Israeli Arab, charges that Netanyahu is the Israeli Lee Atwater:
Netanyahu, of course, wasn’t dog-whistling here: He didn’t refer, say, to “people in Israel’s north who don’t have Jewish interests at heart,” or some other such variation (Paul Ryan’s “urban” voter formulation from 2012 comes to mind). Instead, he screamed, ‘The Arabs are coming!”
These are all serious allegations: If the Prime Minister is a racist and just won another victory by appealing to racism, surely Israel and most Israelis are racists as well!
The Judean People’s Front and its followers know this to be false, so let’s look at what Netanyahu actually said:
“The rule of the Right is in danger. The Arab voters are moving in droves toward the polling places. The NGOs of the Left are bringing them in buses.”
This sounds bad to Western ears who aren’t used to mainstream leaders referring to communities by their names. But in Israel this is par for the course. Talking about Arabs, not to mention seculars, Haredim, national-religious, settlers, Mizrahim, etc. is simply the way things are and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. Multiculturalists love the idea of different cultures but hate talking about them, and always condemn someone who is part of the majority culture for expressing pride in their culture or discussing a different group in any terms that aren’t flattering or welcoming.
Some have asked, “what if Odeh complained that Jews were coming out to vote in droves?” Well, this analogy doesn’t really work because Israeli Jews are divided among various, sometimes-fluid groups. When Rabbi Auerbach effectively called for a boycott of the elections there was much discussion of how this would effect the Haredi vote… and the New York Times certainly didn’t label these discussions anti-Haredi or anti-Semitic. It was understandable and reasonable to discuss how the Haredi sector was going to vote. So why should it be any different when discussing the Arab vote? (Granted, the Arab sector is also sub-divided into many groups - Bedouin, Islamist, communist, Palestinian Nationalist, Christian - but the Joint List shows that most of these groups will abandon or suppress their differeneces in order to rally around anti-Zionism.)
Granted, Netanyahu is the Prime Minister and should know better. Even if this is what he meant and most people understand that, saying a minority population is going out in droves to vote, no matter the legitimate concerns, is irresponsible. Thankfully, he has since apologized and hopefully will be more careful in the future.
###Joint List Extremism
Another thing completely overlooked is the make-up of the Joint Arab List, which sounds all nice and cozy. Again from the NYTimes:
There were signs that Arab Israelis were turning out in somewhat higher numbers, apparently to vote for the Joint Arab List, a coalition of four small parties.
This is the only line devoted to Arab actions as opposed to the actions of Jews. The Arabs are again only the victims of a racist Israeli leadership and society. The Times Editorial Board was too busy to look into what the JAL stands for, but the Judean People’s Front found the time. So let’s do a quick recap of the leadership shall we?
###Number 1: Ayman Odeh
From the Communist, anti-Zionist Hadash party. He calls for Israel to cease being a Jewish State, while calling for a Palestinian Arab State to be created next to it (until they can be merged, one must assume).
###Number 2: Masud Ghnaim
From the Islamic Movement and Ra’am party. He calls for Israel to be replaced with a Caliphate and openly supports Iran and Hezbollah.
###Number 3: Jamal Zahalaka
From the Palestinian Nationalist Balad party. He travels the world calling Israel an apartheid state that should be replaced by a “state for all its citizens,” which is code for a Palestinian dominated state.
###Number 4: Ahmad Tibi
From the anti-Zionist Ta’al party. When he isn’t supporting dictators like the late Muammar Ghadafi, Bashar al-Assad, or Mahmoud Abbas, Tibi is promoting Fatah, being celebrated by Hamas for representing Palestinians and is calling for Israel to cease being Jewish.
Herein lies the problem: it isn’t that Arabs in Israel are voting for Arab parties; that is their right and given Israel’s fractious political system, it is to be expected. The problem is that the Arabs overwhelmingly are voting for a ticket that is diametrically opposed to the character of the state. Bradley Burston complains of the division between Zionists and the anti-Zionists, but he of course charges that only Bibi gets to decide who belongs in which group. Instead of actually looking at the fact that the Arab community in Israel actually does vote for proud and open anti-Zionists (not simply left wingers derogatorily labeled as such), Burston sticks to what he does best: ignoring the facts and calling his opponents racist.
##Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X
During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, there were two main groups fighting for leadership: the Integrationists, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Nationalists, led by Malcolm X.
Their differences were stark: Dr. King was working toward a realization of the civil rights promised all citizens under the US Constitution and a full integration of African American citizens into the state. Conversely, Malcolm X preached separation between Black and While people, black supremacy, and the creation of an independent black nation in the American South.
Imagine for a moment if the African American community had for generations referred to anyone who worked with the American political system not only as an Uncle Tom, but a traitor worthy of death (and often carried out such sentences). In such a scenario, it is unlikely Martin Luther King Jr. would have been able to found a movement, let alone gain followers in public. That would have ceded the stage to the separatist Black Nationalism of Malcolm X. The militant, separatist, and anti-American nature of this movement would have completely overshadowed the legitimate concerns about discrimination and segregation of the African American community. White Americans would not have felt comfortable supporting such a movement and such support would have been rejected anyway. The March on Washington would have been about destruction not dreams. There would have been no Civil Rights Amendment, no end to segregation, and instead there would have been a radical polarization in America, most likely leading to a race war as Black Nationalists attempted secession.
If African Americans were by a wide margin voting only for the Communist Workers Party or the Nation of Islam, would anyone blame the rest of the country for being wary of them?
Luckily for America, Dr. King’s message of civil rights, equality, and integration won the day, making him a true American leader and not only an African American leader. Unluckily for Israel’s Arabs (who face no such segregation or official discrimination) the ideology of Malcolm X has gone largely unchallenged. Instead of rallying around people like Bassem Eid or Khaled Abu Toameh, they rally around the Joint Arab List, a coalition of parties whose only unifying factor is their opposition to the State of Israel.
Pointing out the radical, anti-Zionist nature of the Joint Arab List is not racist and unless this fact is seriously discussed, the danger it poses to both Israel its Arab citizens will only grow.
###Room for Hope?
There is another aspect to this that deserves attention: recent polls show that not only has Arab identification with the Israeli flag (and possibly the state it represents?) jumped to 55% (from 37% last year), but Israeli Arab support for the Palestinian flag plummetted from 34% down to a mere 8%. Additionally, 87% of Israeli Arabs say they believe in “Jewish-Arab coexistence,” though that is conveniently left undefined.
It is also worth noting that Israeli Arabs turned out to vote in higher percentages than the national average (70% vs. 66%), clearly showing they believe the current system is a legitimate way to redress their grievances. 70% of Arabs in Israel say they care more about socio-economic issues within Israel than the conflict with the Palestinians, and 60% say they want the Joint List in the coalition.
This begs the question: If 81% of Israeli Arabs say that better integration can only come with Arabs in the coalition and 55% support the state, then why on Earth are they voting for the Arab List? Why aren’t new Israeli Arab parties being founded that are not anti-Zionist?
Well, periodically you will hear about such parties being formed, but nothing ever comes of them for a number of reasons:
It costs money to get elected
All parties must get at least 3.25% of the total vote and such parties would be campaigning mostly for the Arab votes which are only 20% of the country
Fear of being labeled a traitor
The first three reasons are all just excuses that are surmountable under the right circumstances. Pretty much every Israeli election these days has a new party crashing onto the scene. I don’t accept that if someone like an Amos Yarkoni established a pro-Israel party for Arabs he couldn’t get funding or challenge the established parties and pass the threshold.
The real question is, despite the growing identification with the state, are Arabs in Israel willing to make this public by going to a rally for such a party instead of just answering questions in a poll? So far the answer is no, although to be fair, none of the new parties have offered the kind of leadership or charisma (real or imagined) of a Lapid or Kahlon.
The polls showing greater Arab identification with Israel are certainly promising, but as long as threats continue to dictate public actions and anti-Zionists continue to win the votes, those feelings of affinity are meaningless.