When it comes to the Arabs, Israel’s Right and “Left” are united

The January 27 attack in Neve Ya’akov, which caused the death of 7 civilians, did not prevent the Israeli protest organizers from taking to the streets and shouting slogans for democracy and against dictatorship. Brigadier General David Agmon, who previously served as director of Netanyahu’s office, blamed the government and its leader for all ills of Israeli society. “We are becoming a dictatorship”, “Hungary” and “the end of democracy” were just some of the slogans chanted. The division in the nation has never been deeper.

Thousands of Israeli blue and white flags in the protest demonstration could not hide the fact that the country is divided into the settlers’ “Yehuda” and the “Israel” of the liberals.  Threats of ‘civil war’ and ‘civil uprising’ were also thrown about, so much so that President Herzog publicly called for a cooling of the heated public discourse. Then, on Monday, three days after this impressive display of internal division and irreparable rift, the rivals united in the Knesset, in an impressive display of patriotism, to vote together on a law which would strip citizenship or residency status from terrorists.

Among initiators of the law were Knesset members from the Right coalition (64), and an overwhelming majority of 89 MKs from all the Zionist factions. Among them were Naama Lazimi, Gilad Kariv and Efrat Reiten from the Labor Party while the faction’s leader, Merav Michaeli, was absent. Reiten told Haaretz that “when the legal advisors from the government, the Knesset and Defense Ministry attested that the bill meets the legal examinations of the State of Israel and international law, and is an ‘effective tool to fight terrorism’ according to the Ministry of Defense committee representatives, Labor decided to back the law in its first reading”.

“The legal tests of the State of Israel,” according to Efrat Reiten, were determined by the High Court of Justice. Court President Esther Hayut, the main victim of the coup d’état led by Netanyahu, stated that: “There is no constitutional impediment to denying citizenship to those convicted of crimes that violate the trust of the state.” This decision, established already in 2008, was accepted by an expanded panel of seven judges – headed by Hayut herself. The panel determined that the denial of citizenship is permitted, among other things, for crimes of treason, terrorism or espionage (“Haaretz” July 25, 2022).

In other words, this law has been around for years, and was re-enacted during the days of the “government for “change”, whose members and supporters are today taking to the streets to defend the Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice does not bother with rulings and legal quibbles when approving bills that satisfy the feelings of revenge and hysteria of Israel’s fascist right. Yet with food comes an appetite, and the racist legislation towards Arabs – the scarlet letter of which is the Nation State Law – provides legitimacy to continue enacting more and more laws and reforms that will determine the Jewish nature of the country at the expense of its democratic one.

It is clear that the law negating citizenship of an Arab on the basis of disloyalty to the state is the beginning of a small-scale ethnic cleansing. Yet future steps will not stop there. They will expand to include anyone who protects the human rights of “those Arabs,” and will eventually harm those who “betray the Jewish religion and tradition.”

The difference between the fascist right and the liberal opposition is obvious. The right is militant, advocates for a clear agenda, works consistently to achieve its goals, and knows how to put the opposing camp in a state of constant defensiveness. In the year and a half of the “government for change”, Netanyahu sat on the opposition bench and worked tirelessly to thwart any legislation, no matter what its nature: from legislation designed to eliminate the need for an American visa to the extension of a regulation concerning the legal status of settlers.

In contrast, today’s opposition lacks any agenda, has no position regarding solution of the Palestinian question and the desired economic and social regime. In fact, it accepts the foundational assumptions of the right, that there is no partner and no solution to the Palestinian question, that the neo-liberal economy is a doctrine from heaven, and that social gaps are an acceptable phenomenon. It knows what it doesn’t want, but has no vision for the future. It aspires to return to the good old Israel, to the Jewish and democratic Israel that lives in peace with the occupation and with the denial of the most basic rights of five million Palestinians.

Thus, with their own hands, those parties which voted together with the fascists in favor of the law denying citizenship to Arabs have reduced the democratic space that allows them to live their lives, and which is disappearing under the right’s coup. Israeli fascism reveals the terrible distortion in which Israeli society lives. This is a false democracy based on the rulings of the High Court, which indeed favored LGBTQ and ultra-Orthodox, and sometimes also Arab citizens, yet created the legal basis for the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It was the High Court of Justice that approved the daily injustices against the Palestinians (home demolitions, land expropriation, whitewashing of settlements) and thus destroyed the grounds for democracy, equality, and the basic right of a person to her body, dignity and property.

The tragedy is that the coup d’état intended to harm everyone who advocates democracy and a liberal society, along with the rise to power of messianic forces such as Smotrich and Kahanists like Ben Gabir, did not encourage the opposition to rethink and ask itself – how did we get here? The vote of liberals from the former Government for Change  in favor of the constitutionally dubious law, together with the fascists, points to the moral and ideological shallowness of the opposition. The latter refuses to recognize that over the years the hatred of Arabs turned into hatred of Ashkenazis, LGBTQ, liberals and secularists, and that this eventually translates into fascism as is reflected in the current judicial “reforms”.

Democracy is undoubtedly a fundamental platform on which to build a broad political movement against fascism. Yet democracy is not a system suitable only for the Jews. It has to encompass any nation that strives for freedom and economic, social and cultural progress. This system must invite into it all those forces in Palestinian society who are tired of the dictatorship and corruption of the Palestinian Authority, and the religious extremism of Hamas.

The two-state idea faded over 50 years of occupation. Geography and economics united the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians in an unbreakable bond. The rising fascism in Israel, on the one hand, and the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority on the other, will force the democratic forces on both sides to seek a common solution.

All those who oppose the messianic extremism of the fascist right in Israel, and all those who oppose the messianic extremism of the Palestinian right, are natural candidates for cultural discourse, broad agreement and partnership for building a common future in one democratic country between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

About Yacov Ben Efrat