Let’s Talk About Zionism, Not Just About Netanyahu – Abraham Gutman
On Saturday night, I was jealous of my friends in Tel Aviv who were able to go to the anti-Netanyahu rally. Tens of thousands of people were expected in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, and I wanted to be a part of it. I was jealous because for a small second it felt real, it felt like maybe something in the Israeli mentality could change. Then I got a text with a photo from the event. The background of Rabin Square, Tel Aviv City Hall, was lit with a huge Star of David and no acknowledgment to the religion or culture of non-Jewish Israelis. Nothing changed.
Netanyahu is an annoying leader. Personally, at this point, I get an almost visceral reaction from hearing the guy speak. Although that means that he will not get my support, it doesn’t mean that someone else I disagree with should. The Zionist Union of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who claim to be the alternative to Netanyahu, are campaigning with the “us or him” slogan, but even they don’t really explain what makes them a better option. Instead, they simply repeat the mantra that Netanyahu has failed and that six years in leadership is long enough. What are they going to do differently? Maybe they will join U.S.-led negotiations with the Palestinians? Netanyahu did that with Livni as his chief negotiator and not much came out of it. Will they prevent the next cycle of violence in Gaza? They didn’t prevent nor actively oppose risking the lives of Israelis in the last awful cycle that left more than two thousand Palestinians dead and countless displaced. By the way, where were the 50,000 people who came to the square Saturday night during the ground offensive over last summer? It seems that people are more upset about Netanyahu leading the charge than the war itself.
It has become a cynical joke among many Israelis that when Netanyahu opens his mouth, it’s a good bet that in the first sentence he will say the word “Iran.” But just like Netanyahu uses Iran over and over again to avoid discussing the real issues facing Israel, the Israeli Center-Left is using, “anyone but Bibi” to achieve the same results. The prime example of this kind of issue-avoiding discourse is the debate between almost all candidates over who can take ownership over Zionism. The basic idea behind Zionism, the national bond between all Jews that comes before any civic bond of Israelis — Jews and Arabs alike — must be debated and challenged. Instead, the Left is using Zionism to appeal to the Center-Right. To some it seems strategic, a way to get the “good guys” in positions of power, but it also sends a very strong message to the non-Jewish citizens of Israel. The message to the Arab voter is that he or she is not wanted. Even if we speak of equality, we will decide on it, amongst ourselves as Israeli Jews, and we will let you know what we decide.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to fly to Israel from New York to vote. I have only one year left before I finish my degree, and I’ve promised myself that these elections will be the last that I miss. If I could be in Israel for Election Day, the Joint List would have my vote. The Joint List is a slate created by four parties with strong Arab constituency in response to changes in Israel’s election law that threatened their ability as smaller parties to enter parliament. Yes, they are an extremely problematic union and I don’t fully agree with every one of their decisions. Yet, I find them to be the only party that is willing to ask the questions, to start the correct debate, and to work towards true partnership. The Joint List isn’t a perfect final product, but I believe that they are starting something important. Something big. I hope they will fight for a space in Israeli politics where Jews and Arabs can come together to reshape, debate, and challenge Zionism.
The organizers of a rally against Netanyahu, a rally with an intent to shake the status quo, found that the only way to draw a large crowd was to have as many Stars of David as possible in the square. The discussion on Zionism was missing, and non-Jewish voters are excluded from going this opposition. Meir Dagan, a former chief of Mossad, stood on stage and explained the importance of bringing Jewish and Arabs hearts together. If you were a non-Jewish Israeli citizen, watching Mr. Dagan say those words with a ten story high Star of David in the background, would you believe him?