The Jerusalem Post poll published on Friday had three significant takeaways.
The first and saddest was that nearly 70% of the country does not want an Arab party to be part of a governing coalition in the future.
This number does not just include Jewish Israelis but also Israeli Arabs. According to the poll, about 40% of Israel’s two million Arabs think the experiment that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas tried has failed and should not be repeated.
Despite what they’ve seen over the last year and probably because of it, most Israelis don’t want Arabs and Jews in government together.
The second takeaway is that Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit faction in the Religious Zionist Party, would get about six seats if he ran on his own in a future election.
Let’s remember who Ben-Gvir is. He is a follower of Kach founder Meir Kahane, a past leader of the militant group, who hung a picture of terrorist Baruch Goldstein in his Hebron home until recently. Goldstein was the American-born Israeli doctor who slaughtered 29 Muslim worshipers in 1994 in the Machpela Cave in Hebron.
The third takeaway was that no matter the scenario – three were presented in the poll - opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu cannot form a coalition and keeps falling short of the 61 seats needed to establish a government in Israel.
When it comes to the first two takeaways, they are understandable but unfortunate. It might be true that the Bennett partnership with Ra’am did not work – possibly because it was premature and Israel wasn’t ready for such a government – but the dissolution should be a warning sign for us all.
Israel is a country with nine million people. Seven million are Jews and two million are Arabs – Muslim and Christian. They do not live in a different state; they live in cities together with Jews – places like Jerusalem, Jaffa, Lod, Acre and others. Jews and Arabs work together, shop together and live together.
Being in the same government is a direct extension of this reality. It is hard, complicated and even infuriating at times. But, it’s the right thing for all of Israel – both its Jewish and Arab citizens.
Ben-Gvir is the exact opposite of coexistence. He does not want to get along with the Arabs who live in this country. He is an Israeli version of what white supremacy is in the United States.
His rise in popularity comes from his successful ability to tap into a sentiment in Israel that the government is weak, does not do enough to fight terrorism and capitulates too often to Western powers like the US. That is an easy idea to push and believe when you are a politician who has zero responsibility and has never been required to make decisions that impact the trajectory of a state.
And while the results of the poll are democratic, they should raise concern for people who want to live in a country that promotes values of equality, freedom and civil liberties. Ben-Gvir’s rise in popularity is legal and he has done an incredible job politically. But, combined with the turn against Jewish-Arab partnerships – as illustrated in the poll – his rise shows an Israel that is one not imagined by the people who founded this state and fought for its existence.
It shows that Israel – even after 74 years – still has to decide where it wants to go. Does it want to work toward greater separation between its Jewish and Arab citizens or does it want to work toward greater integration? That is something the Bennett government tried to answer by showing what a partnership can look like – and that is what Ben-Gvir is trying to answer by standing for a different message: one of Jewish power that dominates the Arabs in this land.
The poll published Friday should be a wake-up call for Israel. While this government might collapse in the coming weeks, it does not mean that the vision of an integrated Jewish-Arab country needs to die with it. That is still something all people in this country should work toward. And it is really the only way to preserve Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.