It’s a lesson Israelis should have learned long ago. Still, the experience of the last 12 months should have reminded them of it again. Those who bash Israel as an oppressor or embrace the big lie that it is an “apartheid state” aren’t interested in what it does. They hate it because of what it is: a Jewish state.
That’s once again relevant because of the end of an experiment that should have conclusively proved that the calumnies about apartheid and oppression are absurd. The presence of Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am Party—an Arab faction that is, in principle, opposed to Israel’s existence and believes in the institution of an Islamist regime in its place—in the government of Israel should have put an end to discussions about apartheid. It was a decisive piece of evidence (though hardly the only one) that showed that the Jewish state is a lively democracy based on equality under the law for all its citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Yet throughout the last year, the vituperation against Israel not only failed to be quieted. It actually increased with the BDS movement in the United States continuing to promote hate while retaining support from influential leaders of the intersectional element that dominates the left-wing of the Democratic Party.
Nor did the nest of Israel-haters and anti-Semites of the U.N. Human Rights Council stand down from its obsession with attacking the Jewish state. Its open-ended “Commission of Inquiry” is still pushing the apartheid lie as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel and isolate Israel as a pariah state.
Instead, the likely fall of the government in which Abbas and Ra’am have served as a destabilizing factor will be seized upon as fodder for more “criticism” of Israel than is merely thinly veiled anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
After the events of the last few days, it appears more than likely that Israel’s experiment in a multi-party coalition that spanned the ideological spectrum is about to come to an end. Defections from the government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have created a situation in which it cannot pass vital legislation. While it is still fighting for life and engaging in desperate maneuvering to hold onto power, few observers believe that it can survive much longer.
Indeed, the only real question now is whether its collapse will result in a new election or if the votes of some members of Bennett’s own Yamina Party or the right-wing New Hope Party led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar allow former (and possibly future) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government without even needing Israelis to go to the polls for the fifth time in three years.
The demise of the coalition will be lamented by many liberal commentators who hoped that Netanyahu’s departure from power would be permanent. They will decry the creation of another religious/right-wing government like the one that ran the country before June 2021 as a defeat for “democracy,” even though the vast majority of Israelis voted repeatedly for parties whose stands on issues coincide with Netanyahu’s views.
The current coalition offered the country a respite from the elections that tormented Israelis from 2019 to 2021. Yet it was a government divided against itself and its policies at home and abroad, offering no solutions to the country’s problems.
Still, it will earn its place in the history books not so much because it ended Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years as prime minister, but due to its inclusion of Ra’am in its ranks. Whatever one may think of this endeavor—and Netanyahu’s criticisms of it ring hollow since it was his own negotiations with the Islamist party that helped legitimize the gambit—it was a milestone that should have ended the discussion about whether Israeli Arabs are full citizens of the country with equal rights.
That it did not do so should come as no surprise. Facts have never served as an effective riposte to those who trash the Jewish state.
Israel has, after all, been a democracy from its first day of existence. Arabs have served not just in the Knesset, but as mayors, diplomats and even as judges, up to and including in its Supreme Court. Nevertheless, for those who think that a state with a Jewish majority dedicated to preserving and protecting people as well as its rights to live, build and exercise self-defense in its ancient homeland has no right to exist, those are merely inconvenient details that must be ignored.
The same applies to the constant refrains heard from Americans about Israel needing to take risks and the widespread belief that trading land for the hope of peace would end the conflict with the Palestinians.
Those critics ignored the fact the Oslo Accords, in which Israel allowed terrorist Yasser Arafat to autonomously govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, only led to an increase in violence against Israel rather than, as so many hoped, lasting peace. In 2000, 2001 and 2008, the Palestinians (first under Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas) rejected offers of statehood in Gaza, a share of Jerusalem and almost all of the West Bank in exchange for recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew every Israeli soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in the foolish belief that it would lead to peace. Instead, Gaza has become an independent Palestinian state in all but name governed by Hamas terrorists.
If all that didn’t sober up Israelis and their friends to the reality that no gesture, offer of peace or territorial withdrawal will influence those who support the campaign to destroy Israel, then nothing will.
In the months after the debacle of the Camp David Summit of 2000 at which then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former President Bill Clinton offered peace to Arafat, I interviewed Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami. He acknowledged that his government’s peace effort had not only failed, but Arafat had also responded by launching a terrorist war of attrition that came to be known as the Second Intifada. Yet Ben-Ami believed some good would come of it.
“Never again will Israel be accused of being the obstacle to peace,” he predicted. Arafat’s decisions had made it clear that “from now on, everyone will know who wants peace and who chose war.”
More than 21 years later, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry when recalling his naiveté.
In a world where anti-Semitism wasn’t the driving force behind the century-long war against Zionism, the 12 months of an Arab party in the government would have been a turning point in the discussion. Instead, it has proved to be as ineffective in making Israel’s case to the world as every other effort towards peace and coexistence that it has made in its history.
The lesson to be learned here is not necessarily about whether to repeat the Ra’am experiment. Rather, it’s that Israel should never undertake any policy—no matter how generous or dangerous—in the belief that doing so will improve its image among its detractors. Israel should always do what is in the best interests of its security and the well-being of its people. Both the Jewish state and its friends must finally abandon the delusion that Israel’s critics and enemies deplore its behavior when all they actually care about is its destruction.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.