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Vision of a more just society than the one we now live in together

Eetta Prince-Gibson
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Published: 26 September 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU AND HIS Likud party lost the elections. But their chief opponent, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party, didn’t win. And so President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with establishing the next coalition government.

Given the cynical arithmetic that creates Israeli political coalitions, Rivlin may not have had a choice.  And given that same arithmetic, Netanyahu probably won’t succeed.

But he sure will try. Just how hard he showed us on Wednesday night, on live TV, when he accepted the mandate from Rivlin. He fear-mongered about the Iranian menace that only he, Mr Security, can cope with.  He boasted about the Trump peace plan that only he, the world-renowned statesman, can bring to fruition. He warned about the looming budget deficit that only he, the financial wizard, can fix.

And then he, the man who has done more to divide and polarise the country than anyone else in recent memory, talked about how much Israel needs a unity government – to be headed, of course, by the once-and-future-and forever king, Netanyahu himself.

Netanyahu isn’t really concerned about the Iranian, Trumpian, or economic threats.  He is motivated by the very real threat that he will soon be indicted on three criminal counts, including fraud, breach of trust, and bribery.

Following the elections in April, 2019, in order to buy loyalty to the coalition that he couldn’t create, Netanyahu was willing to mainstream racism, homophobia and misogyny, by appointing people like  Betzalel Smotrich and homophobe Rafi Peretz to his interim government and agreeing to the ultra-Orthodox demands for gender-segregated public spaces.
Even if Netanyahu doesn’t become Prime Minister, it will take a very-long time to overcome the anti-liberalism, authoritarianism and polarization that he will have left in his 10-year-long wake.

There’s every reason to assume that the right-wing parties will once again present their illiberal demands to turn Israel into a xenophobic, exclusionary and expansionist society.  And there’s every reason to assume that Netanyahu will agree to any and all demands that will keep him in office and out of jail.

But before the horse trading begins, and to keep ourselves from slipping into cynical pessimism before Rosh Hashanah, it’s worth looking at a set of coalition demands presented by two parties – the Joint List and Blue and White.  Taken together, these demands draw the parameters of a society that could be more liberal, egalitarian and compassionate than the one we have now and will probably have in the near future.

Approximately one fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinian.  Even in the face of Netanyahu’s deligitimisation and portrayal of them as disloyal fifth columnists, the Palestinian public affirmed their rights as citizens and over 60 percent of them came out to vote (in contrast to less than 50 per cent that voted in the elections in April).

For only the second time in Israel’s history, a party representing the Palestinian citizens of Israel responded to a president’s invitation to make a recommendation for prime minister.  (The first time was in 1992, when they recommended that the president appoint Yitzhak Rabin to establish the government).  This time, they recommended Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz.

It could not have been politically or morally easy for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, a national minority which is part of the Palestinian nation in the West Bank and Gaza, to recommend Gantz, a former Chief of Staff who commanded Israel’s Protective Edge campaign in Gaza in 2014.

And it could not have been emotionally palatable to recommend the Blue and White party, which includes no less than three former heads of staff and numerous other high-ranking former military personnel.

That recommendation was a statement of the Palestinian citizens of Israel’s political and civil will to bring change for themselves and for all of Israeli society.  It reveals their acceptance of both civil opportunity and responsibility, because, as head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh wrote in an oped in the New York Times, “Arab Palestinian citizens cannot change the course of Israel alone, but change is impossible without us.”

And in exchange for this support, the Joint List presented a set of demands relating to real life, day-to-day issues. These demands included:

- appointments to the Finance and Internal committees of the Knesset;

- establishment of a peace process based on the vision of two states;

- cancellation of the Nation Law and legislation that grants priority in appointments to the civil service to those who served in the armed forces (from which Arabs are exempt);

- establishment of an Arab city university; construction of a hospital in an Arab locality;

- allocation of 64 billion shekel for a multi-year development program for the Arab sector;

- government commitment to put an end to violence and criminal activity in Arab localities;

- incentive programs to encourage Arab women to seek gainful employment;

- and revision of a law that severely penalizes individuals who carry out illegal construction, which, Arabs assert, is because the government refuses to grant building permits.

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Of course, the Blue and White Party has demands, too.  These include passing the Draft Law so that the ultra-Orthodox will have to serve in military; allowing public transportation on the Sabbath; establishing and enforcing the multi-denominational joint prayer section at the Western Wall that Netanyahu had approved and then retracting; and creating a law that allows for civil marriage.

These demands relate the relations between religion and society in Israel, reflecting the growing dissatisfaction with religious control over almost all aspects of Israelis’ private and public lives and setting out an outline for religious freedom.

Gantz further demanded creation of a law that limits the amount of terms a Prime Minister can serve and declared “Blue and White will not sit in a government whose leader is under indictment.”

Unlike Netanyahu’s negative, ad hominin politics, Blue and White’s refusal to sit with Netanyahu does not reflect an overall deligitimisation of a party or its supporters (the Likud).  It is a statement about political hygiene and support for democratic governance and the rule of law, so that Netanyahu will not sacrifice these basic tenets in order to save himself and his corrupt cronies.
It could not have been politically or morally easy for the Palestinian citizens of Israel to recommend Gantz, a former Chief of Staff who commanded Israel’s Protective Edge campaign in Gaza in 2014. 

Taken together, the demands posed by the Joint List and Blue and White reveal a vision of a liberal society that attends to real life and liberty.  A society that respects the rights of women and minorities, seeks to further a fair distribution of resources, and supports critical thinking.

Of course, this is not a comprehensive vision for Israeli societyand the road map of how to reach this society is sketchy, at best.  Critical issues such as education, treatment of migrant workers and asylum seekers, and protection of the environment aren’t mentioned by either party (or by anyone else, for that matter). And it completely ignores the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

And even if Netanyahu doesn’t become Prime Minister, it will take a very-long time to overcome the anti-liberalism, authoritarianism and polarization that he will have left in his 10-year-long wake.

And not even all of the members are both parties are actually behind the demands: some members of the Joint List (members of the Balad faction) have refused to be part of the recommendation and it is doubtful that Blue and White would ever actually include the Joint List in a government (although they would probably accede to at least some of their demands in exchange for support from outside the coalition).

And yet, taken together, these sets of demands present a vision of a more just society than the one we live in together.

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we direct ourselves towards thoughts and hopes for the new year.  And we recite, May the year and its curses come to an end; may a new year and its blessings begin. As a society, we know only too well what the curses have been; now let’s think about the blessings that could be.

DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN: We are witnessing a ‘liberal’ revival in Israel (Forward)

Photo: Rivlin and Odeh (UPI/M Kahana)

About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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