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Israeli elections and the cultural taboo

Mar 10,2020 - Last updated at Mar 10,2020

While it is not yet clear who will form the next Israeli government, the Arab Joint List, made up of four Arab parties, chalked up a remarkable electoral achievement garnering some 15 seats. This achievement should give Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party the majority in the Knesset needed for forming the next government. During the elections campaign, Gantz denied the Likud allegations that he would collaborate with the Arab Joint List. And yet, it took him just a few days after elections to say that he would cooperate with the Arab Joint List.

It remains to be seen if Gantz can really keep his word. But, here is the deal. Jewish parties always look for a Jewish majority and not any majority. On Wednesday, Netanyahu made it perfectly clear that the left did not receive the majority in the elections. He claimed that the left received only 47 seats, as the Arab Joint List should not be counted simply because they are not Zionist. Implicit in Netanyahu's statements is that the Arabs are not equal citizens of the State of Israel. In his bid to win elections, he has been accused of demonising the Israeli Arabs.

Of course, it is not the first time that Netanyahu has warned Israelis that the Arab citizens of Israel are a latent threat to the Jewishness of the state. In fact, his hatred of the Arabs is well documented. In his response to criticism made by an Israeli actor, Rotem Sela, Netanyahu wrote: "Israel is not a state of all its citizens…According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, and only it.”

To be sure, Netanyahu is not alone in this position. Gantz squandered the chances to form a government in October because he did not want to rely of the support of the Arab parties. Like Netanyahu, he values the Jewish majority. Perhaps, the Jewish majority rather than any political majority is what gives legitimacy in a country that claims to be both democratic and Jewish.

I commend the insistence of the Arabs in Israel on their diligent efforts to realise what many describe as a state for all its citizens. I strongly believe that the Arab Israelis should be equal citizens and treated as such. Demonising them and portraying them as fifth column will not work in the long run. Given the changing demographic situation, Israelis are better off if they start dealing with the Arab Israelis as full citizens.

Nevertheless, it takes leadership and wisdom on the part of Gantz to make a difference this time. He should not settle for the cultural taboo any more. We all know that the 62 majority garnered by those who are opposed to Netanyahu would deprive him for forming a government. And yet, if the cultural taboo continues, this majority is meaningless, as Gantz would not form a government.

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