In his own crude way, Knesset member Jamal Zahalka symbolizes a kind of cheap, rampant and dangerous populism that heralds nothing good.
The High Holy Days provide a perfect opportunity for introspection; mostly melancholy; Days of Awe, etc.
Not that there’s no news to report. Plenty of that here: Jerusalem is burning, Europe floods with refugees, Bibi and Obama meeting. All these can wait. This week I’m writing about one person who terrifies me. One man whose influence is great and capacity for damage overwhelming. He, in my eyes, symbolizes the kind of cheap, rampant and dangerous populism that heralds nothing good, except perhaps more votes for himself.
He is an emissary of the people, an individual who, if he wanted, could work toward mending tears, bridging gaps and finding a common denominator. Instead, he kindles the flames and wallows in the blood.
His “You don’t say shalom to me” speech 12 days ago in the Knesset, was, to my taste, a horrendous occurrence. It made headlines, it was bandied about in the social networks for a couple of days and then it expired. This speech emblemizes the serious problem we have with those who claim to be the leaders of Israel’s Arab sector. But let’s not underestimate this problem. It could detonate everything we have here.
Take hatred, hypocrisy and an overdeveloped imagination, add the components of our life in this troubled land and you’ll end up with a catastrophe.
It began with the tone. Zahalka didn’t deliver his speech. He screamed it. He virtually spat from the podium. His eyes burned, his body language was aggressive, his language coarse, he waved his arms about and, when he stepped down from the podium, I expected him to kick at something (maybe even the podium itself). He started quietly, with the traditional “Mr. Chairman, distinguished Knesset,” and then proceeded to whip himself, almost instantly, into a frenzy.
From the 45th second of this horrifying spectacle and to its end, a further 4 minutes, he screamed.
At whom? At Avigdor Liberman? No. At MK Bezalel Smotrich? Oh no. He screamed and yelled at MK Stav Shaffir. I know, redheads can be quite irritating. Still, Stav Shaffir. First, she doesn’t say “shalom” to him. She sees him in the corridor and ignores him. What a racist! Shaffir’s crime was to speculate that MKs from the Joint List (Arabs) were planning a deal with Netanyahu over Israel’s natural gas layout. So Zahalka took to the podium and made mincemeat out of Shaffir, and then of the entire Labor Party, and then of the historic Labor movement, which according to him was much more murderous and lethal toward the Arabs than the Likud and the Right.
He spewed poison on the Labor Party and the Zionist Camp, in a series of insults and accusations that would not have shamed the prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. You murdered thousands of Arabs, you stole our lands, you urinate on us from above, racists! You are the mother and father of racism. Stav Shaffir wants to preach morals to me; she should be ashamed of herself! The faces of all of you are ugly, ugly, ugly!!! First of all, he actually did the Zionist Camp a big favor. If I were Buji Herzog, or whoever succeeds him (if and when) as Labor leader, in the next general election, Zahalka’s tirade of horror will be my most valuable election broadcast. See here, even the Arabs are saying we’re not lefties. On the contrary, we eat Arabs for breakfast. It’s all there filmed and recorded. Bibi, eat your heart out.
Seriously, though: Zahalka isn’t alone. He is surrounded in this so-called Joint List by several more dangerous provocateurs, no less successful than he and even more hypocritical and treacherous.
Incidentally, I believe that not all the Arab MKs are like Zahalka. I know I might be harming him by saying this, but I have no choice.
In all honesty: I think MK Ayman Odeh is different from the mainstream Arab parliamentary craziness.
Jamal Zahalka is preceded by Dr. Azmi Bishara, a proven traitor, who escaped justice and now sits in Qatar under his fig tree, spreading his usual, familiar poison in all directions. Unfortunately, others, like my friend Ahmad Tibi belong to this group, one of the better known of who was Talab a-Sana, who managed, during his tenure, to lose 15 diplomatic passports, and there are plenty more examples.
What do I want from them? Only that they tell the truth. I don’t believe that Israel’s Arabs are in an ideal situation, far from it. There’s plenty to repair in the state’s attitude to its Arab population. Some governments make an effort to do so, others don’t. There is discrimination, deprivation and neglect. Nonetheless, there is also a clear, stable and firm truth that is obvious to all and cannot be denied. The situation of Israel’s Arabs is hugely better than that of all the other Arabs in the Middle East. Period.
Even in the wealthy states such as Saudi Arabia and the emirates, things are not as good for Arabs as in Israel.
The vast wealth in these countries is concentrated in a minuscule echelon of anointed aristocracy. All the rest are ordinary citizens. In Israel liberty is immeasurably greater, Israeli democracy is (still) tangible, the health and legal systems, education, infrastructure, all these are so much more developed, not only in the Jewish sector, but in the Arab sector, too. Indeed, it can all be measured in numbers. Life expectancy. Infant mortality. Education. Standard of living. Average income.
If you take the trouble to check, you’ll see that Israel’s Arabs are living in paradise.
Jamal Zahalka needs to bend down and recite the five Muslim prayers every day and thank Allah for sending the “Yahud” here to establish a magnificent, modern state in which he is a citizen with equal rights.
Just imagine, Jamal, if this hadn’t happened. That we had lost the 1948 War of Independence and you had won. First of all, we both know that the Jews would have been flung into the sea. How do I know? Because you promised to do just that and from your historical record and what I see all around, it makes sense. And then what? Well, after we’d swum in the general direction of Cyprus, where would you be today? Let me tell you where you’d be today: somewhere between Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen and Libya.
You can figure it out, if you like, and you can even add Egypt and that’s exactly where you’d be today. Most likely you’d now be swishing around in a leaking rubber dinghy, more suited to a domestic swimming pool, on your way to some Greek island, or packed into the back of an overcrowded truck in an attempt to steal across the Serbian or Austrian or Hungarian border. All this assuming that you’d have survived the Arab dictator of the day, or a local terrorist organization, and not lost your head on the whim of some psychopathic Islamic extremist. Where do I get all this from? I look around me. This is life for a large number of Arabs who didn’t have the good fortune to be part of a minority population in the Jewish state. At worst they are slaughtered, expelled or tortured; at best they live in poverty, in an undeveloped country, with a low life expectancy, low standard of living and a very grim horizon.
Israel’s Arabs were supposed to build the bridge between our neighbors and us. Instead, they are destroying it. Thirteen of them were killed during the October 2000 uprising in the Galilee and the earth shook. If these riots had broken out in Oklahoma, at least 130 of them would have lost their lives. I am sorry, but I am not prepared to allow thousands of Arabs to block major roads and highways in Israel, to destroy and burn everything in their path and chant “Slaughter the Jews.”
I missed them, the Israeli Arabs, at several of the most important moments in the country’s history. I missed their voice after the Camp David Summit in 2000 and in 2008, when Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas his peace proposal and, even now, when Bibi Netanyahu went to significant lengths in the secret negotiations he held in London, which were continued by John Kerry and Martin Indyk opposite Abbas. Each and every time far-reaching peace proposals have been laid on the table, which included the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in almost the entire territory captured in the Six Day War, or at least the equivalent thereof; each time, the Arab partner ossified and disappeared.
At moments such as these, I would expect the Arab members of Knesset to say something courageous. To coax their brothers across the Green Line into taking action. Or to continue to negotiate on the basis of the proposals they’d been presented. But they remain mute.
Every other day of the year their throats are filled with the importance of peace, until the moment arrives to take action. And that is when the truth emerges: They don’t really want it. They are incapable of relinquishing the right of return. They are incapable of signing an “end to conflict” agreement. They are here to scream that they are being discriminated against, to enjoy the best of all worlds, to live in a democratic state, to feast at its table and enjoy all its treats and delicacies, while endlessly ranting and raving against it. But, I expect that deep inside themselves they are praying that none of the curses they bestow upon us will ever be realized.
How awful it would be for them to wake up one day and find that Israel is no longer there, has dissolved, disappeared and left them here all alone, in this insane place, surrounded by Arabs.
Fortunately, most of Israel’s Arabs don’t think like and don’t behave like their leaders in the Knesset. They concern themselves with different issues. Yes, some of them are bitter and some of them feel they are being discriminated against, but they are aware of the value of this country, of its importance in their lives, and they don’t wish to destroy it. They are not stupid. They are sitting on this branch and, even if they are sitting at its edge and not enjoying the same quality and the same quantity of fruit as those sitting nearer the center, they don’t really want to chop it down.
Those who do chop it down are Jamal Zahalka and his colleagues in the Knesset. They pose a real danger to the coexistence here and to our joint future. I look forward to the day when the Arab public in Israel will vomit them out of office and join forces under other leaders – real leaders. Don’t worry Zahalka. Your friend Azmi Bishara will sort you out a job with Al Jazeera.
You won’t have to starve.Translated by Ora Cummings.