By Ray Hanania
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a TV news interview on Sunday that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens.” This wasn’t by accident.
Later, in a social media post, Netanyahu more clearly framed that comment, ensuring that his racist intent was not misunderstood. Netanyahu explained that, on April 9, Israeli voters will have a choice to vote for his Likud-led coalition or for one led by a center-left coalition that is partnering with the country’s Palestinian voters. Electing a coalition that includes Arab parties would, Netanyahu said, “undermine the security of the state and citizens.”
By defining the upcoming election in such terms, Netanyahu is trying to ensure that, if his unstable coalition of religious and secular Jewish and Zionist parties can’t come together on issues of public policy, they will remain together on the basis of racism.
This racist Israeli rhetoric was not a one-time occurrence. Two weeks earlier, a prominent Israeli journalist, Amit Segal, called the Arab party Balad a “terrorist organization” during a political program on Israeli television. Balad officials accused Segal of making the comment intentionally in order to anger Palestinians living in Israel and discourage them from voting in the election. Balad filed a lawsuit against Segal but the public’s decision on April 9 will come much sooner than any decision by the Israeli courts.
As all this was taking place, the Israeli Central Election Commission (CEC) ordered that Balad and its partner the United Arab List — as well as Hadash candidate Ofer Cassif — all be disqualified from running in the election. Ironically, the CEC ruled the same day that a follower of the late Meir Kahane, who was denounced as a terrorist by Palestinians and Israelis alike, could run in the election despite his embrace of violent, anti-Palestinian views.
Of course, not all Israelis agree with this eruption of racist rhetoric and electoral decisions. President Reuven Rivlin called Netanyahu’s comments “unacceptable remarks.” And many expect the Israeli Supreme Court to overturn the CEC ruling, which, if upheld, would prevent half of the Palestinian candidates who ran in previous elections from running in this election.
Only 13 Palestinians running on Arab party slates were elected in 2015. These 13 members of the current Knesset represent only 11 percent of the parliament’s 120 seats. That is far below the number Palestinians living in Israel could elect if they voted to their population strength, which is 20 percent of the country’s total.
That is precisely what Netanyahu, Segal and the CEC are targeting. Israel’s right-wing fanatics in politics, the media and society want to incite the Palestinians living in Israel to anger, hoping they will boycott the elections. That would guarantee Netanyahu’s re-election and the continuation of Israeli government extremism.
Netanyahu doesn’t want Palestinians living in Israel to vote on April 9; he knows that would oust him from office.
I believe the best way to destroy a racist enterprise is to do it from the inside. In other words, you get involved and you force change. By running away from the problem and not voting — which is what boycotting Israel’s election really means — Palestinians living in Israel would empower the racism they face.
True to our nature, many Arab organizations inside and outside of Israel are urging Palestinians to boycott the elections. Staying home and not voting wouldn’t be the first mistake they will have made. Instead of having 13 members in the Knesset, as they now have, they might only elect six from the Ta’al party headed by Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, who has not been impacted by the CEC ruling. If that happened, 20 percent of the population would only have 5 percent of the representation in the Knesset.
Clearly, Palestinians living in Israel have never flexed their real muscle to impact the Israeli elections. Despite the many laws, rules and decisions that seek to weaken their vote, they could effect real change if they did go to the polls in a massive wave of anger rather than stay at home in failed disengagement.
Standing up to racism takes effort. Rolling over, boycotting and staying home on election day is apparently so much easier.