Was MK Matan Kahana right about his comments on Arabs? - editorial

Kahana's wording was out of place. Jewish and Arab Israelis are destined to live together.

Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana arrives to a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana arrives to a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Once again, we got a chance on Tuesday to observe how shallow Israeli public discourse has become.

Headlines, tweets, posts, and comments all lamented Matan Kahana’s remarks to “send Arabs on trains to Switzerland” (which, by the way, in Hebrew sounds very similar to Auschwitz).

Kahana’s coalition colleague Eli Avidar tweeted: “Poor remark. It is a pity he said it. The Arabs are Israeli citizens, and they are here to stay. [Though] what we should do is to make dark opinions and remarks disappear.”

N12, one of Israel’s biggest news outlets, tweeted: “[We should] send Arabs in trains: the video that got Kahana in trouble.”

But there’s one problem – he never said it.

 RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) RELIGIOUS SERVICES Minister Matan Kahana arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem earlier this month. He is resigning from the cabinet in order to return to the Knesset. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Kan’s political reporter, Michael Shemesh, posted a video of Kahana, speaking to yeshiva students in Efrat. He was recorded, without his knowledge, and explained to them how he views the future for Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Kahana told the students that it is important to “understand the story that Arabs themselves tell” about recent history, and to acknowledge – not to agree or believe that it’s true – that there is another narrative told by the Arabs.

“Poor remark. It is a pity he said it. The Arabs are Israeli citizens, and they are here to stay."

Eli Avidar

“I don’t believe that peace is possible in the near future,” he then said. “I can say about myself that if there was a button that could make all the Arabs here disappear, send them on an express train to Switzerland and there they will live a great life, I would have pressed this button.

“But what can I do? There’s no such button. There is no button that would move Arabs to Switzerland where they could live a comfortable and peaceful life. This is why we are destined to live on this land [together] somehow.”

And that was Kahana’s bottom line: we need to find a way to live here together.

Yes, his wording was out of place.

He also later apologized and tweeted: “Conversing with students yesterday, I referenced that both Jewish and Arab populations aren’t going anywhere. As such, we must work to live in coexistence.

“Our coalition is a courageous step toward this goal, and within this larger discussion, a few of my statements were poorly worded.”

If we are talking about serious public discourse, then while the opening of Kahana’s remarks was wrong, the ending was not. Israel needs to find a way to live together with the Arabs. It cannot just make them go away.

Both sides

It is true for both sides. People on both sides sometimes wish that the other side would just go away. They don’t imagine a detailed operation of trains or trucks, they just feel inside that if “the Jews” or “the Arabs” weren’t here, their troubles would disappear.

The recognition that we have no choice but to live together is the answer to MK Nir Orbach’s unfortunate statement in the Knesset last week, when he shouted at MK Mazen Ghanaim: “The experiment has failed,” referring to this being the first time that Arabs are part of a coalition.

That a representative of the religious Zionist movement is even going to a yeshiva to advocate for coexistence proves that the experiment has far from failed.

Mansour Abbas managed to put Arab Israelis at the forefront of the stage. For years, the needs of Israel’s Arabs were swept under the rug because their representatives would not cooperate with “the Zionist regime.” Now, people like Kahana realize that Israel’s Jews cannot bury their heads in the sand.

Nevertheless, the experiment did fail in another aspect: this coalition is not functioning.

Each week we hear of another rebel MK adding to the woes of a coalition that lost its parliamentary majority a while ago.

The ship is taking on water and the biggest holes, ironically, come from the prime minister’s party, which has shrunk from seven to four members.

This is the experiment that could be said to have failed: an attempt to build a diverse coalition that is led by a prime minister with a small party. Coexistence – as Kahana spoke of – is not an experiment. It is a way of life, and one, as he acknowledged, that cannot be ignored. 

Jewish and Arab Israelis are destined to live together.