As the election draws near, there has been a marked decline in the character of political discourse.
On Saturday night, during a demonstration at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the incumbent Likud-led government, artist Yair Garbuz lashed out at religious and traditional- minded Israelis, ridiculing them as a bunch of “amulet kissers, idol worshipers and those who prostrate at grave sites.”
He went on to claim that “the hateful person who murdered a prime minister,” those who shout “Death to Arabs,” and those who are “bribe-takers” and “corrupt and piggish hedonists” now form a tyranny of the minority.
Though Garbuz’s comments were distasteful, the attacks on him were no less extreme. He was treated to ad hominem smears accusing him of being a racist – apparently against Sephardic Jews – though he never mentioned Sephardim in his speech and though he later made it clear that his attack was against religious fundamentalism of all kinds – Ashkenazi and Sephardic.
Another speaker at the demonstration, Michal Kastan Kedar, whose husband, Lt.-Col. Dolev Kedar, was killed in action in the Gaza Strip last summer, has also been criticized.
In a speech before tens of thousands who attended the rally, Kastan Kedar urged more vigorous Israeli efforts toward a peace deal.
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“We can’t talk constantly about Iran and shut our eyes to the blood feud with the Palestinians, which costs us so much blood,” she said.
In response, Hagai Huberman, a columnist for the right-wing Arutz 7 website, accused Kastan Kedar of killing her own husband by advocating territorial compromises with the Palestinians.
In a piece that ran under the headline “Kills her husband and cries that she’s a widow” before it was toned down, Huberman argued that the deterioration of the security situation in Gaza was a direct result of the 2005 disengagement from the Strip and northern Samaria.
Still, while the comments made by Huberman, Garbuz and some of Garbuz’s critics were shocking, these were ultimately the opinions of individuals with no real political backing.
In contrast, a Likud campaign video that has since been pulled and a comment made during a public speech by Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman are more worrying, because they seem to reveal the distorted thinking of two major political parties that are vying for our votes.
The Likud video compared unionized workers from the Ports Authority and from the Israel Broadcasting Authority to Hamas terrorists.
And Liberman, speaking before an audience at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said that Arab Israelis who are “against us” should be decapitated.
“Whoever is with us should get everything. Whoever is against us, there is nothing else to do. We have to lift up an ax and remove his head, otherwise we won’t survive here,” he said.
Liberman did not qualify his statement. Rather he made it as part of an explanation of his two-state diplomatic solution, as detailed in the party’s platform, according to which Umm el-Fahm and the surrounding area with its Arab population should be ceded to a future Palestinian state.
There is no room in any party’s election campaign for such language. Unionized workers might have used bullying tactics in the past to prevent government reforms. But it is abhorrent to compare them to terrorists who uses suicide bombings and rocket fire to kill innocent civilians. And by doing so, the Likud missed the chance to offer pertinent criticism.
Similarly, Israel’s democracy is robust enough to allow for radical political dissent – including anti-Zionist rhetoric. The Arab population should not be threatened with decapitation for holding these political opinions.
Instead of engaging in populism, political parties should devote the precious time remaining until the election to explaining their stands on the central issues facing society.
Many parties have. Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Zionist Union and Meretz have all published detailed platforms on a wide range of socioeconomic issues such as housing, education, health, welfare, cost of living, small business, pensions and the Arab and haredi populations. This is the first election in recent memory in which so many political parties have taken the time to articulate their positions on these issues.
Unfortunately, with just one week left before the election, Yisrael Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi and the Joint (Arab) List have only published outlines of basic principles, while the Likud has published no new platform whatsoever.
Instead of sullying themselves with mudslinging, politicians should address the issues.
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