Us and them

By posting this, Netanyahu tried to deliver a message: I am with you, the people, the soldiers; but Gantz, he is with them.

November 6, 2019 22:28
3 minute read.
Us and them

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz greets Likud leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two days after Israel’s Election Day. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Watch out. Based on all of the signs, the 2020 election campaign has begun and it’s already getting ugly.

“Each one [of us] did something today,” wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Facebook page last week, adding a photo of himself posing for a selfie with soldiers, and a photo of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz meeting with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi.

By posting this, Netanyahu tried to deliver a message: I am with you, the people, the soldiers; but Gantz, he is with them.

Obviously, Netanyahu cannot explicitly say that the Arabs of Israel, who constitute some 20% of the country’s population, are enemies.

In its campaign of the second election in 2019, the Likud created an influx of videos that were meant to deter voters from voting for Gantz, warning that if he won, he would form a government with the Arabs.

Likud members and Netanyahu cronies kept repeating the slogans, claiming that the election was between Netanyahu and a “dangerous government [led by Gantz] and supported by the Arab parties.”

In some cases, Likudniks provided evidence for their objection to the Arab parties’ leaders. Videos were distributed of Tibi praising martyrs and audio clips of Odeh refusing to condemn attacks against soldiers in the West Bank.

These comments are unacceptable, but these men – Tibi and Odeh – are also the elected representatives of 20% of our country, whether we like it or not.

Now, again, the nation has two options: we can try to simplify things, color everything in black and white, good or bad, us and them, and find the lowest common ground with the voter to sow hate and fear; or we can understand that the reality is complicated and that it has different shades and colors. We can understand that by finding common ground and tackling issues that matter to the entire society, we can bridge the gaps.

Odeh and Tibi are far from being Zionists. Their parties have tried since the 1980s to erase Israel’s Jewish characteristics. However, before the last election, they made a historic declaration, saying that they would like to take part, or at least support, a government in Israel.

That was a landmark in the relations of Jews and Arabs in Israel; and, most of all, it proved that reality can change, even in small steps.

Whether he will be able to form a coalition or not, Gantz was right to meet with the Arab leaders and even post a photo from the meeting. By doing so, he said: there is no us and them, we are all citizens of the same country.

This notion was echoed in his speech at the Yitzhak Rabin memorial rally on Saturday. “We are one multicultural society, which is composed of many identities,” he said. “The wisdom of leadership – and its responsibility – is in strengthening the glue that connects us all together.”

He later recognized one of the most urgent needs in Arab society these days.

“We will restore the personal security of the Arab citizens, and we will protect the dignity of our political rivals,” he said. “Yes, they are our brothers as well. They are part of us.”

Aside from the conflict with the Palestinians, most Arab-Israelis have the same ambitions and aspirations as the average Israeli Jew. They want to have a nice home, a decent job, proper education for their children, quality and reliable medical services and advanced infrastructure.

Joining hands with the Arab leadership in these matters will not harm anyone. There is no “us and them” when it comes to health, the war on crime and upgrading public transportation.

Whether we are going to a third round of elections or not, we need courageous leadership that will know how to integrate Arabs and work to make 20% of Israelis feel they belong, with the concomitant responsibilities and privileges.

And who knows? Maybe these small but necessary steps will bring us closer to peace.

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