The “A” word is anathema in pro-Israel circles. It’s about as bad as the “N” (Nakba) word . The history of the use of the former term in an Israeli context is interesting. I remember when I was 17 in 1968 and attending the Camp Ramah American Seminar, I created my own independent study course on Zionism under the wise tutelage of Rabbi Joe Lukinsky (z”l). After reading Arthur Hertzberg’s Zionist Idea, I wrote a paper which I had the temerity to send to Prof. Ernst Simon, then an emeritus professor at the Hebrew University, who’d been there at the creation of Brit Shalom. A major point of my paper argued that Israel was guilty of apartheid, South African-style. Prof. Simon’s reply was very generous and supportive. As I recall, I don’t think he agreed with me, but he was gentle in saying so.
In the intervening years, if anything the apartheid argument has grown far stronger. A decade or more ago, it was more commonly applied to the Occupation, in which there were clear distinctions and separations between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. But more recently, the term has been applied to Israel itself and its relations with its minorities. Any serious observer of the status of Israeli minorities will know that, contrary to hasbara talking points, they are second or third class citizens. By every meaningful standard they have less than Jews and are treated far worse than Jewish citizens.
For a current example, you have to go no farther than the predicament of the Negev Bedouin. These indigenous Israelis are herded into backwater towns like Rahat, offered substandard services and housing, removed from their ancestral lands and traditions and told to fend for themselves. Any Bedouin who resists is treated like those of Al Araqib who, by now, are probably on their 100th round of expulsions by Israeli officials and their Jewish National Fund enablers.
Very few observers ever point to the nature of political apartheid in Israel. The electoral process is based on a spoils system. Ministries and the perquisites associated with them are bequeathed to various coalition parties. They, in turn, are distributed to the constituencies of the parties. This is why the Haredim and Mizrahim exercise so much political power. Their followers vote in large number and their leaders reward them with spoils: jobs, social welfare, scholarships, etc.
One of the key reasons for Palestinian powerlessness is not so much that they don’t vote in numbers proportional to their presence in the overall population (though this is true). Rather, it is the Jewish ruling coalitions, who have systematically excluded Palestinian parties. That is not to say that individual Palestinian MKs don’t serve as junior ministers. They have (though not in recent years). But these are members of majority Jewish parties, never Palestinian parties.
A political party that will never be part of a ruling coalition is one that is permanently out in the cold. If you were a sports team, you’d be the Chicago Cubs, perennial losers. But ones whose diminishing number of fans love you deeply. You will never reap the benefits of power. You will always play a symbolic role in the Knesset, an afterthought. This is one of the reasons racist politicians like Lieberman can get away with continually pushing to expel individual Palestinian MKs or, as recently, all of them. They have no power and a politician who is powerless is defenseless as well. This is why virtually every Palestinian MK is, or has been under police investigation for various criminal and civil transgressions. Everyone is their enemy, no one their ally.
Let all who moan about the crisis facing Israel, the threats to democracy, the dangers of Occupation, and the dire need for liberal Zionist parties to beat the ruling Likud coalition, face one insurmountable fact. If the liberal Jewish parties really wanted to win, they would not say the following:
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog promised the Saban Forum in Washington…that he would lead a centrist bloc to victory in Israel’s next elections and that he would replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the next prime minister.
Herzog said that he would form a coalition comprised of all the parties “from Lieberman to Meretz” and that he would try to secure “support from the outside” from the Arab parties as well.
Any Jewish Israeli reading this would skim over it without missing a beat. Business as usual. Nothing to see here. But if you examine what he said closely, you will immediately understand that he’s affirming a form of political apartheid which has existed from the beginning of the State. Herzog has ruled out any participation of non-Jewish parties in his ruling coalition. He’s upholding a time-honored form of Israeli apartheid.
Just after the last election, a beaming Yair Lapid basked in the limelight of his own Party’s impressive showing. But part of his victory statement addressed the role (or lack of a role) he foresaw for the Palestinian parties. When asked whether he would align with them even informally to serve as a “blocking majority” to frustrate the agenda of the Likud, his answer was a categorical No. But the form his rejection took was especially telling. Instead of referring to the Palestinian bloc in the usual way Israeli Jews do as the “Arab parties,” he said this:
We will not do that with Haneen Zoabiz – it is not going to happen.
He’s done two things here. He’s used Haneen Zoabi as a synecdoche for the entire Palestinian political sector. And he’s referred to her not in the singular as a real human being, but with a “z” plural suffix, as if all Palestinians were one giant Haneen Zoabi. This is not just insulting, but flagrantly racist. But as Mairav Zonszein notes in her 972 piece, what most disturbing about this is that no Israeli Jew understands why this is racist.
Returning to the upcoming election, if Herzog thought he could do so, he might consider including the Palestinians in his putative coalition. In fact, Raviv Drucker claims he did so in this article, but when asked, Herzog denied it. The latter doesn’t do so for one simple reason: he believes his liberal Zionist voters will not stand for it. The overwhelming level of racism in Israel prohibits the liberal Jewish parties from aligning themselves with Palestinians. Until that changes, Israel will not change nor will Labor ever win an election. Nor should they.
This political game is a charade, as I’ve argued here many times. Politics that is only about distributing goodies to voters will never solve deeper problems. It goes along to get along. But it is basically irrelevant as a force for good or change. That is why Israel’s electoral system and the Knesset in particular is an exercise in corruption and futility.
Diaspora liberal Zionists should ponder the question: what are you supporting? Why is it so important for a liberal Zionist coalition to win when the very premise on which it is based is thoroughly racist? Politics rooted in immorality never deserves to win.
And don’t get me started about those who argue that Likud is so bad that anything is better, including a flawed “Zionist center.” I would rather see the exposed fangs of a fascist ruling coalition so the world would truly understand the nature of latter-day Israel. A liberal ruling coalition would provide a fig leaf that prevented the world from taking further action against Israel regarding creating a Palestinian state and prosecuting war crimes.
Uri Breitman posted to Facebook the claim that Herzog suggested the Palestinian parties would be “outside” because it is their own choice. That is false. Though Palestinian MKs have rightly criticized the alliance called the “Zionist Camp,” for its presumptuous, unimaginative, alienating name, they have never rejected participation in a ruling coalition. They, however, know the rules of the game. They know they are unwanted in the halls of power where deals are made and spoils are distributed.