Ehud Olmert to 'Post': The time for change is here

It was not a coincidence that the Blue and White leaders said that Netanyahu was behaving like Turkey’s Erdogan.

PROTESTERS STAND outside the Kibbutz Reshafim home of Gesher Party leader Orly Levy-Abecassis Wednesday night, following her decision not to support a Joint List-backed minority government.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
PROTESTERS STAND outside the Kibbutz Reshafim home of Gesher Party leader Orly Levy-Abecassis Wednesday night, following her decision not to support a Joint List-backed minority government.
(photo credit: FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never intended to form a unity government. His very use of the term unity is an act of deception and deceit. All of the elections that took place this past year, as well as the one that took place in 2015, were focused – at least from Netanyahu’s point of view – on separating, forming schisms, leading incitement and insulting the various sectors of Israeli society that had clashed with him or were considered to be significant opponents for him and his party.
On Election Day in 2015, Netanyahu eluded to overcrowded buses that were bringing hundreds of Arabs to vote at polling stations. This turned out to be a false alarm, but it was a very effective motivational tool for the Likud. Thousands of Likud voters who’d been lounging on their couches at home at the end of the day jumped up and ran to poll stations in order to save our nation from this “terrible threat” of Arab voters. It also turned out that many voters who’d been intending to vote for more right-wing parties, voted for Likud instead in order to assure that Netanyahu would receive enough votes to remain in the prime minister’s seat.
A similar atmosphere existed during the April 2019 and March 2020 elections, in which there was incessant incitement against Arab voters and against the parties that represent Arab voters, who are citizens of the State of Israel. This was the dominant tone found in the discourse among the imperial family that lives on Balfour Street, and their proponents who appeared all over the media in an effort to impart the family’s sentiments to voters.
In fact, Israel’s interim prime minister told the country’s citizens, in an unmistakable way, that almost two million Israeli civilians are traitors who want to destroy Israel. The slogan “Bibi or Tibi” is in essence telling the Israeli public that their choice is either to vote for a Jewish and Zionist State of Israel or to support traitors who want to destroy Israel. There’s no other way to understand these words. Repeating over and over again that Gantz has no way to form a government without including the Joint List, is vicious incitement that is intended to deter voters from supporting candidates who want to destroy the country, who support terrorism and who cooperate with enemies of the state.
Interim Prime Minister Netanyahu has extensive experience in unrestrained incitement. We all remember well the harsh days of incitement against late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Bibi, of course, was not guilty of murder and neither was he the one who provided the heinous murderer with the murder weapon. There’s no doubt that he knew nothing about him. And yet, he was the one responsible for creating the atmosphere that fostered and encouraged people’s desire to bring harm to Rabin, saying that this was the only way to save the State of Israel from disaster.
How can we forget the infamous rally that featured a coffin? How can we try to blur the memory of the protest in Zion Square which featured a picture of Rabin wearing an Nazi SS uniform, as Netanyahu addressed the crowd from a balcony. That same evening, Dan Meridor and I decided not to attend the rally, and to disconnect ourselves from Netanyahu in every way we could. We understood that this passionate style was encouraging Rabin opponents and Netanyahu supporters to engage in actions that could no longer be prevented.
I REMEMBER in detail the Knesset session that took place late in the evening, after a group of Likud thugs became unruly and tried to tip over minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Fuad)’s car and blocked it from entering through the Knesset’s gate. Rabin was in shock, and I’d never seen him so upset before. He understood exactly what effect Netanyahu was striving for, and certainly imagined where this incitement could lead. The TV broadcasts and public appearances on social networking that have been circulating over the last few months are almost completely identical to what happened then, and could possibly – God forbid – end now with similar results.
It was not a coincidence that the Blue and White leaders said that Netanyahu was behaving like Turkey’s Erdogan. For many people, Erdogan symbolizes an autocratic, extremist and fanatical ruler who doesn’t hesitate to use the government as a means to shove aside his political adversaries, and at times to act against them in undemocratic ways, as we have experienced democracy since the founding of Israel.
Netanyahu is creating, for the first time, a tangible threat to the basic rules of democratic life in Israel. He’s taken his foot off the brakes, and his threats and insults are increasing. He’s disenfranchised 20% of the country’s population, so that they won’t be able to help shape our country’s society. This blatant damage could lead to stress, which would turn into assaults and even civil violence or worse.
Netanyahu is acting as if nothing can stop him from becoming the prime minister. If the blocs had received an equal number of mandates in the recent election, he would have demanded that his bloc be given preference in forming a government since it is his innate right. Since the results show that the Netanyahu bloc doesn’t even have 59 mandates, Netanyahu has no problem disqualifying the 15 members of the Joint List, even though the Election Commission and the Supreme Court found no flaw in their loyalty to Israeli law and citizens.
If it will become necessary, Netanyahu will engage in incitement against Arab members of Knesset, and might even go so far as to establish rules and or laws that would prevent all or some of them from participating in a vote of no confidence that would be approved by the Knesset.
One can think of every possible way that Netanyahu wouldn’t hesitate to damage the fabric of our communal life as citizens of the country if it would help him or his friends to escape prosecution and remain in control of Israel’s government.
However, what we already knew is precisely what prompted Blue and White leaders to announce on the eve of the election that they wouldn’t sit in a unity government with Netanyahu. This was a clear statement, maybe one of only a few sharp, profound statements made by Blue and White leaders. Someone who compares Netanyahu with Turkish President Recep Erdogan could not imagine that a few weeks later he’d agree to sit with Netanyahu as the leading pilot in the cockpit.
Anyone who refused to back Netanyahu as prime minister for a five-month period surely wouldn’t want to appear ridiculous when Netanyahu continued to rule as the temporary, provisional prime minister and may continue to be there for a long time. Anyone who declared that he would not participate in a government led by a prime minister against whom three serious charges had been brought, cannot do the exact opposite when in addition to these charges, the prime minister carries out blatant, provocative and treacherous steps that repudiate the basic values of democracy in an effort to evade legal proceedings that apply to every citizen in the country.
When I say Blue and White, I am referring to Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser. When the list they’d joined in the election announced that it would not sit with Netanyahu due to all of the issues detailed above, they supported this declaration, and requested the public’s trust in them to follow these ideals. Anyone who has eyes knew before the election that it would be impossible to form a government without some somewhat indirect or even direct support from the Joint List. Didn’t Hendel and Hauser understand this? Perhaps when they referred to Netanyahu as Erdogan they meant he was not a qualified partner, unless he was needed to disqualify the Joint List.
PERHAPS HENDEL and Hauser meant that Netanyahu was a threat to democracy; that he engaged in insulting and polarizing incitement, only before the election, and now that it’s over, all of this has suddenly disappeared.
I personally believe the time has come to look for a way to open up communication with Israeli Arabs, most of whom really and truly want to become active and productive members of the State of Israel and Israeli society. I think the time has come to stop boycotting Arab politicians. Anyone who is afraid of the character of Israeli society must share my view.
Do Hauser and Hendel really want to prevent a few million Palestinians in the territories from having voting rights, to support the unilateral annexation of land, which makes the values of the State of Israel appear disgusting and could lead to boycotts. Now, they also want to delegitimize any contact with the 15 members of Knesset who were elected, who were themselves part of this community.
I do not think it’s possible to form a coalition with the Joint List, but not because they are not welcomed in our society. They are. It’s just that I think the chances of reaching an agreement that will lead to a full coalition agreement are very low. However, cooperating on the basis of only partial acceptance of civil issues that are important to Israel’s Arab citizens in exchange for their external support of the government, even if they’re not part of the coalition, is that not acceptable? Why? Who is willing to support such a racist policy, which could force Israel to hold a fourth election that is even more violent, dangerous and polarizing that the previous ones?
It’s time for change. It’s time for everyone to change their mindset and accept that Israeli Arabs have changed their strategy. They are bona fide citizens of Israel and they are finally ready to exercise their rights and take an active role in the legitimate and democratic political process that is the lifeblood of Israeli society.
For decades, we have been yearning for the day when Arab Israelis would no longer feel alienated, and would want to play an active and productive role in society. Thousands of our doctors, pharmacists, nurses, engineers, consultants, merchants, business-owners and hi-tech entrepreneurs are Arab. Isn’t it time that their representatives in the Knesset become full partners in this democracy and lend a hand in shaping our government?
Haven’t we claimed that leaders of Israel’s Arab community have been avoiding taking responsibility for running the country and are only interested in Palestinian affairs? Now that they seem to be at a turning point and desire to become part of a productive relationship, will we reject them and instead go back to humiliating them?
Will members of Blue and White, or at least a few of them, self-righteously roll their eyes and then bring Netanyahu back from the roadside, where the election has dropped him, and install him back in the center of the government for one more round?
Is this the platform that Blue and White stood behind?
Blue and White representatives – and especially people like Hendel and Hauser – cannot hide behind self-righteous excuses and racist accusations against members of the Joint List.
Together with their comrades, they need to take responsibility, to be courageous and to hold their heads high and make the necessary moves to carry out the inevitable changeover in government.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.