Like a choir of parrots, many of the Likud ministers and MKs, reading out the page of messages that came out of the Prime Minister’s Office toward the elections, have been repeating the slogan, “It is either Bibi or Tibi.”
On the face of it, what the slogan says is that when you vote in the election to the 21st Knesset, your choice is either Benjamin Netanyahu or MK Ahmad Tibi as Israel’s next prime minister. Nothing is further from the truth.
In reality, the two alternatives for prime minister are Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, from Blue and White. Netanyahu will be called upon to form a government if all the religious parties and all the right-wing parties that pass the qualifying threshold together will receive 61 Knesset seats or more in the new Knesset, and will recommend Netanyahu to the president of the state as the next prime minister.
Gantz will be called upon to form a government if all the Center, Left and Arab parties together will receive at least 61 seats, and all of them will recommend Gantz to the president. While recent opinion polls do not rule out the first possibility, the second one is shaky, since the Arab parties might not recommend Gantz to be prime minister, since he has already stated that he has no intention of inviting them to join his government, should he form the government, and it is not clear what their price will be for recommending him to the president despite this fact.
The $64,000 question is what happens if neither Netanyahu nor Gantz will have the support of a majority to form a government. There are four possibilities if that happens.
The first is that Netanyahu will manage to convince one of the parties from the Center-Left to join a government under him.
However, since Blue and White, Labor and Meretz have all announced that they will not join a government headed by Netanyahu, following the attorney-general’s announcement that he plans to indict the prime minister subject to a hearing, this option doesn’t seem realistic.
The second possibility is that Gantz will convince one of the religious parties or right-wing parties other than the Likud to join a government under him. The chances of this happening are slim, but they cannot be ruled out, especially since all of Netanyahu’s current coalition partners are aware of the fact that sooner or later he is likely to stand trial, and in all probability will be forced to step down.
The third possibility is that Blue and White and the Likud will form a national unity government, but Blue and White will insist that the government will be formed only after the Likud elects a new leader. (I would also insist that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev be left out of such a government, since besides the damage she has caused in her current position, the venom she has been spitting out against all four leaders of Blue and White has not only crossed the line of good taste, but could constitute a basis for libel suits.)
The fourth possibility is that as a result of the deadlock, new elections will be called.
However, no matter what happens, there is no scenario under which Tibi (who is in second place after MK Ayman Odeh in the Hadash-Ta’al list, and thus cannot be a candidate for the premiership) will be appointed to a ministerial position. I personally hope that the day will come when Arab parties will be able to join an Israeli coalition, and would be happy to see MK Ahmad Tibi as health minister, but unfortunately I doubt that I shall see that happening during my lifetime.
But there is much more that is wrong with the misleading “Bibi or Tibi” rhyme than the fact that it does not tally with reality. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if something similar were to happen in some Western democracy, where the prime minister who is running for reelection and wants to win at any cost were to decide to take advantage of antisemitic sentiments in his country and place the name of some Jewish candidate for parliament on an election slogan stating that the voters’ choice is between himself and the Jew?
Back in 1949, right after the election to the Constituent Assembly (which soon turned its name into the first Knesset), the poet Nathan Alterman wrote the following words about MK Tawfik Toubi: “Who is Tawfik Toubi? He is a member of the Knesset. He is an Arab Communist. He sits in the house of representatives by right and not by anyone’s grace.... Like all the delegates to the House, Toubi sits there by virtue of the regime.”
The background to this poem was pride in the new Israeli democracy, but also anti-Arab sentiments that led many to question the legitimacy of Toubi’s membership in the Knesset.
Today such sentiments are still current, and are perhaps even stronger than they were in the past, which is why Netanyahu feels free to play on these sentiments to his own benefit for the second election campaign in a row. I doubt he has ever given serious thought to the long-term ramifications of what he is doing, in terms of weakening rather than strengthening the feelings of allegiance of Israel’s Arab citizens to the State of Israel.
Incidentally, it is perhaps anomalous that it is none other than Netanyahu himself who might bring about a situation in which Tibi, or some other Israeli-Arab politician, could become prime minister of Israel. This would happen if Netanyahu were to give in to some of his right-wing partners and annex the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thus turning the Jews into a minority in the State of Israel, unless Israel gives up being a democracy and implements either a transfer of Palestinians from Greater Israel, or a policy of apartheid against them. It is to be hoped that this nightmare will not be allowed to materialize.
Last week the Central Elections Committee decided to disqualify the Balad-Ra’am list from running in the elections, but not the two candidates from Otzma Yehudit in the Union of Right-Wing Parties list, even though on the basis of article 7a of Basic Law: the Knesset there is reason to disqualify both Balad and Otzma Yehudit. The committee also disqualified the Jewish candidate of Hadash, Dr. Ofer Kassif, who is a very outspoken anti-Zionist.
It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court will rule on the basis of submitted petitions against the decisions of the Elections Committee.
In the past, the court was lenient in the case of both Arab and Jewish parties and candidates, demanding a very high level of evidence to disqualify any of them. But the makeup of the court today is more conservative, and it might well decide to uphold the decision of the highly political and rightward leaning Elections Committee.
Another possibility is that it will not change the decision to ban the Arab party and Kassif from running in the elections, but will also disqualify Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir from Otzma Yehudit.
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