Voting at a Meretz conference, Tel Aviv, January 14, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Talk about democracy as much as you like, but there’s none here

No one on the Jewish political spectrum wants to be portrayed as an “Arab Lover”. Meretz is no exception. This is outrageous racism and if you were an Arab you would understand that. Israel needs people who want a country that loves human beings.

Citizen K’s blog in Haaretz Hebrew edition.**

By Karen Haber

Invariably, in almost every discussion concerning working together with Arab politicians or with Arabs in general, an argument emerges setting out the parameters. It’s depressing, but sadly it does describe the Israeli reality: “whatever you do, never allow yourself to be portrayed as an Arab lover.” Yes, there’s a taboo on comparing our situation to Germany in the 1930’s, but I do remember my family talking about the fact that even in the early 1930s there were quite a few “friends” who did not want to be portrayed as “Jew lovers”. This is not a comparison to the Holocaust; this is a comparison of racism with racism. And then there is the corollary: the understanding that nothing can grow out of such basic premises.

Any Israeli who cooperates with this terrible paradigm of not being portrayed as “Arab lover” can hide behind descriptions such as realist, practical or pragmatist, but these are just euphemisms that emphasise the legitimacy of Arab exclusion and Israeli racism. Even the attempt to wrap this argument in patriotism or “Zionism” does not hide the bottom line — because patriotism is love of your country, not hatred for someone who is not exactly like you. Striving for a democratic state is not an anti-Zionist act, but discrimination against Arab citizens is an anti-democratic and a racist act, and if we continue to remain silent, we’re all responsible for it.

In the last election, the political mainstream in Israel had the opportunity to differentiate itself from Benjamin Netanyahu’s agitation and incitement and form a government with Arab partners. But the mainstream had succumbed to the racist Zeitgeist, the one that does not include 20 per cent of the population. The Right does not cooperate with the Arabs, the political Centre does not cooperate with the Arabs and the Left does not cooperate with the Arabs. This week we were informed that Meretz is not cooperating with the Arabs either. No one cooperates with the Arabs. But no, do not compare us, heaven forbid to Germany in the 1930's.

My grandfather fled Germany — not because of the war, not because of the concentration camps and not because of “Kristallnacht”. Back in 1935, my grandfather fled because he was a Jew who had sex with a gentile woman and because it was forbidden, and no one wanted to be portrayed as a “Jew lover”. Therefore I compare, I sure do. I compare, because as it turns out, acquiescence leads to this discrimination becoming institutionalised. I compare because the belief that given enough time, the modern perception that see every person as equal in the end will win, actually makes us come to terms with discrimination. I compare because a fifth of the population is discriminated against every day and we live with it.

We live with the fact that a lawsuit get thrown out under the auspices of the Nation-State Law (clause 7, which states that the development of Jewish settlement is a national goal and the state would work to encourage and promote its creation and establishment) under the racist pretext that Karmiel is “a Jewish city”. Such a scenario, had it happened in another country and discriminated against Jews, would have been immediately, and rightly, deemed as antisemitic and would have received a barrage of condemnation. When nationalism takes precedence over any other value, it undermines other values.

In the past, there was an attempt to paint Green Line Israel as a democracy. But there is no such thing as democracy for Jews only. It simply does not exist. Fact — civic equality in Israel does not exist, because democracy is not measured solely by the right of citizens to vote. Nor can you gauge it by comparing the country to autocratic states. Democracy is measured by the degree of civic equality. With the Nation-State Law there is no civil equality in Israel, neither legally nor in practice.

Talk about democracy as much as you like, but there’s none here. If you were an Arab you would understand it, and if you are a Jew who does not yet understand it, one can only hope that it won’t be too late until you understand it. This is a democratic emergency, and it requires brave people who are willing to be portrayed as “Arab lovers” because they desire a country “loves human beings.”