The fanfare surrounding Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s appointment of Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi as Israel’s consul general in Shanghai is both irritating and worrisome.
In the first place, it’s time to stop highlighting the gender and ethnicity of political figures and the posts they land, and start underscoring their ideology and qualifications. That Zoabi is a woman is of as little consequence as the fact of her being an Arab.
All anyone should care about upon hearing the news of her being dispatched to China as an envoy is whether she’s worthy of serving in that capacity. This brings us to the second point: Why Lapid’s move is cause for concern.
Let’s start with the impetus for the maneuver, which has nothing to do with Zoabi’s credentials or the government’s need for someone of her caliber to fill this particular position. Zoabi has been what the wobbly coalition considers a troublemaker.
Still, she’s an elected official, a parliamentarian who was high enough on her party’s list to grant her entry into the Knesset. She thus can’t simply be pushed aside at the whim of her colleagues, who find her statements and voting record to be inconvenient. Sending her to a foreign land with a respectable title to perform a cushy job with more business-card value than work was the perfect solution – for Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, that is.
However, where the rest of the country is concerned, it’s as dangerous a development as having a ruling coalition that includes a party as far to the left as Meretz.
This sorry situation came about through a perfectly legal manipulation of the electoral system. Yet, it caused disgruntlement among voters from across the spectrum, even those whose parties suddenly gained standing in the form of budgets and power that being in the opposition doesn’t provide.
Counterintuitively, it’s this widespread disapproval that’s been keeping the coalition together. Fear on the part of faction leaders that if the government falls, they will be penalized for having joined it in the first place, has been the glue. However, the heat generated by infighting is causing the epoxy to dissolve.
Zoabi’s banishment is the latest attempt at adhesion. Though she retracted her initial nay vote last month on a coalition-backed bill to encourage haredim to enlist in the IDF, she nearly blocked it from moving forward.
Her original rebellion stemmed from anger at the government for reinstating the ban on citizenship for Palestinians who marry Israelis. Her subsequent reversal came on the heels of a promise that the haredi draft law would not be a precursor to similar legislation aimed at Israel’s Arab sector.
Still, the real problem that the coalition has with Zoabi is not her voting record, it’s her refusal to hide her political ideology for the purpose of preserving the pretense that all differences of opinion in the coalition can be overcome through mutual respect and dialogue.
Yes, it’s her honesty on matters that Bennett, Lapid and even Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz would prefer to cloak in kumbaya language that’s earned Zoabi a stint abroad. It’s got zero to do with what Lapid called her “rich, impressive and varied managerial, economic and public experience.”
Nor is his expressed certainty that “she will lead the Israeli consulate in Shanghai to new and important achievements,” the least bit relevant in this case. The reason that she has no business representing Israel is because of her dim view of the Jewish state.
More accurately, her stance is that Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state at all. As well, on more than one occasion she has admitted, if not boasted, that she didn’t know the words to “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.
In this respect, she is even more radical than United Arab List (Ra’am) leader Mansour Abbas, the coalition’s Islamist partner. He, at least, acknowledged at the end of December that Israel “was born as a Jewish state… and that’s how it will remain.”
HOW MAGNANIMOUS on the part of a member of the Israeli government to accept this truism.
Nevertheless, Zoabi feels an affinity for Abbas that goes beyond their shared mother tongue. In early August, when the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets on northern Israel, she told Kan Radio that Meretz and Ra’am could prevent serious retaliation.
“It’s in the coalition agreements. The government has agreed that it will only deal with economic and civil matters,” she said. “Bennett knows that if the government enters into a military confrontation, the coalition will fall, because Meretz and Ra’am will not agree to such a thing.”
She added that if former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were still at the helm, his reaction to the Hezbollah attack would have been stronger than that of his successor.
“Bennett understands today – and this is my interpretation – that he’s permanently lost the right-wing voters, so he needs to understand that he is closer to the Left,” she concluded.
Netanyahu and his backers couldn’t have said it better themselves. Of course, whenever they try, they’re vilified for suggesting that the Yamina party chief completely changed his stripes in order to assume the cherished seat he now occupies.
No wonder Zoabi is an embarrassment. Even fellow Meretz members, particularly Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, would rather she keep her mouth shut.
When asked by Channel 13 for a comment on Zoabi’s remarks about military action against Hezbollah missiles, Frej referred to her choice of words as unfortunate. As to the question of whether her assertion about Meretz and Ra’am was true, he refrained from answering, opting instead to mumble something about differences of opinion and interpretation.
The tiptoeing is laughable. Meretz’s politics, like Zoabi’s anti-Zionism, haven’t ever been a secret, as much as Bennett and Lapid would like to obfuscate them. What’s not the least bit funny is Zoabi’s appointment.
This is a period when global antisemitism is reaching frightening levels, with Amnesty International and other NGOs fanning the flames through false accusations of Israeli apartheid. It’s a time when the administration in Washington is on the verge of returning the P5+1 to the disastrous nuclear deal with the regime in Tehran, whose proxies have infiltrated and are aiming weapons of mass destruction at Israeli cities.
For Israel to appoint a consul general who identifies more with the above forces than with the raison d’être of the country she’s supposed to assist and proudly emblemize is beyond unconscionable. Lapid, like Bennett, ought to be ashamed of having less integrity than Zoabi, who sticks to her guns, and for prioritizing the coalition over the nation.
Meanwhile, she shouldn’t be described by the press as Israel’s highest-ranking female Arab diplomat. A better headline would emphasize her newfound role in the context of her hostility to the state that’s granting it to her.