Just what or who is the democratic opposition in Israel? The recent elections demonstrated that there is a large portion of the public that does not want a continuation of Netanyahu as Prime Minister – not a large enough portion, as it turned out. So the effort rightly shifts to the Knesset floor and to the streets. But the leaders of the opposition appear to have a strange concept of this democracy they are striving, genuinely and rightfully, to preserve. It does not seem to include 20% of Israel’s citizens. Indeed, the leader of Blue and White, MK Benny Gantz, made this clear some weeks ago, when he said in discussing coalition building that he would not hold a political conversation with the Arab parties. Just as his partner, MK Yair Lapid, said in an earlier election that he would not form a government with the “Zuabi’s.” And making the same point, these organizers along with Labor (and unfortunately Meretz) of the demonstration at the Museum last Saturday night to save Israeli democracy did not invite all the opposition parties. The Arabs were not welcome, and if, exceptionally Hadash was to be allowed, that party could not mar the occasion by having its leader speak at the rally. Fortunately a frantic day of public pressure on social media persuaded Blue and White to allow Hadash-Ta'al Chair MK Ayman Odeh speak.
All of this was their right, of course, if this exclusivity was what the opposition parties originally chose for themselves, as organizers of the demonstration. But it portends a bleak future for what is supposed to be a genuine opposition, at least in the Knesset. If the leaders of the opposition, the Blue and White party, do not consider the Arab parties, and by extension the Palestinian citizens of Israel, full-fledged members of Israeli society and of our political life, we have little hope of saving democracy from the incitement, racism and xenophobia (as well as corruption) of Netanyahu and his coalition. Indeed, Meretz and hopefully Labor should beware of the contradiction now brewing – there is no democracy to protect, or save, if the Arab citizens of Israel are excluded. Perhaps what we witnessed, prior to civil society pressure, was the logical conclusion of the injustice and denial of democracy that governments of Israel have perpetrated in our name through Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. It was inevitable, as Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz pointed out so long ago, that civil rights inside Israel would gradually be limited as continued occupation required protection from domestic criticism. Add the Nation-State law and, now, even the opposition seemed to be acquiescing to the political ethnic cleansing by its leading party, Blue and White. Beware. We cannot let this happen, and it's good that we did not. But we must be vigilant lest there remain nothing to save or protect.
Hadash-Ta'al Chair MK Ayman Odeh speaking at the defense of democracy rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, May 25th, 2019
(Photo: Times of Israel)