No, not all votes are equal

Blue and White persists in an obsessive effort to include the inimical Joint Arab List in determining the fate of the Jewish nation-state.

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Nov. 11, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz speaks at faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Nov. 11, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

… the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable. … This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. … Accordingly, we … hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel. … The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration. — From Israel’s Declaration of Independence

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, illicit sexual relations, bloodshed. … But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with Torah, mitzvot [religious observance] and acts of charity? Because baseless hatred prevailed. This teaches you that baseless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, illicit sexual relations and murder. — Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9:B

The election results put us in the position of choosing which election promise to break. In this situation, removing Netanyahu is the main goal. We have no choice but to rely on the Joint List.” — MK Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon, Blue and White, March 12, 2020

It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” (The film)

These four excerpts encapsulate concisely, yet precisely, much of the implausible events that transpired in Israel’s political arena over the last few days—from the disturbing departure from the founding ethos of the State of Israel to the pernicious conduct of those, who allow their personal pique to undermine the very foundations of Jewish sovereignty.

 A Kafkaesque aura

On March 11, a surreal, almost Kafkaesque, aura descended upon political realities in Israel, shrouding them in a thick swirl of bizarre fog, distorting familiar perspectives and conjuring up outlandish spectacles, previously considered inconceivable, before our very eyes.

Incredibly, and despite fervent assurances to the contrary, official envoys from Blue and White, Knesset members Ofer Shelah and Avi Nissenkorn, unashamedly proceeded to engage the heads of the Joint Arab List in an effort to cajole them into entering a coalition to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office, or at least into supporting the establishment of such a coalition.

This, of course, constitutes a breathtaking abandonment of principle by Blue and White—a party headed by three former IDF chiefs of staff, who time and again assured the electorate that any government that their party formed would not rely in any way, neither directly nor indirectly, on the overtly anti-Zionist Joint List.

This was a pledge that appeared eminently plausible. After all, the Joint List, a motley, ad hoc political amalgam of Stalinists, Islamists and Arab ultra-nationalists, united only by an incandescent animosity towards Israel as a Jewish state, is a party that represents the utter negation of everything the leaders of Blue and White have dedicated much of their adult life to defend.

What makes this endeavor even more perverse is the fact that less than a year ago, prominent Joint List members repeatedly accused the heads of Blue and White of war crimes.

For example, just prior to a planned April 2019 visit by Blue and White MK Moshe (Bogey) Ya’alon to the Arab city of Tamara, in the Galilee, the Ra’am-Balad alliance—today part of the Joint List—issued a harsh statement, condemning the visit: “The entry of war general [Bogey] Ya’alon to the city of Tamra and the Arab towns is dangerous, audacious, and signifies a crossing of red lines. … It is unthinkable that we will receive and shake the hand of someone who has blood on his hands … .”

The statement went on to call for the cancellation of the visit: “We call to cancel the event which aims to market the party of generals involved in war crimes, and to gather in support of our nation’s [i.e., the Palestinian Arabs’] justified struggle … ”

This, of course, is an illustrative rather than an isolated example. Thus, a recent Joint List MK (2015-19), Jamal Zahalka, brazenly declared he would “prefer … to die than to sing the Israeli anthem [Hatikvah],” and that the Israeli flag is “worse than a rag.” He also proclaimed that his Balad faction was not part of the Israeli left, but rather “an integral part of the Palestinian national movement.

Declaration of Independence as Israel’s seminal Social Contract

After the outcome of the 1948 War of Independence, Israel’s Declaration of Independence laid out , in effect, the parameters of the Social Contract between Israel’s institutions of governance and its citizens—all its citizens, including its Arab citizens who elected to remain in it after Israel’s victory against the combined Arab attempt to annihilate it.

Indeed, the Declaration of Independence is the cornerstone that defines the ideological and ethical foundations upon which Israel was established and, as such, circumscribes the bounds of legitimate political dissent within it.

In this regard, it is significant that in the Declaration of Independence, the words “Jews” or “Jewish,” appear 24 times, all in reference to nation and/or nationality. By contrast, the words “equal” or “equality” appear in total twice, both times in reference to civil and social, but not national, equality.

It is thus indisputable that Israel was established as a sovereign Jewish nation-state, in which the Jews—and the Jews alone—have exclusive national rights, while all non-Jewish inhabitants have equal civil rights. (It was precisely in order to cement this fundamental and foundational precept in law by giving it legislative standing that Basic Law: Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People was passed—belatedly—in July 2018).

With regard to the question of the bounds of legitimate political dissent within Israel, there are of course a myriad of matters of legitimate political dispute. For example, these include:

Whether it should be a “cradle-to-grave” welfare state or one where the unbridled forces of the free market determine socio-economic outcomes—or what the appropriate mix of these two countervailing perspectives should be.

Or whether Israel should extend full sovereignty over all the territories beyond the pre-1967 lines or withdraw from them completely—or some hybrid blend of these diametrically opposing views.

While disputes over these issues may well be vehement, as long as they relate to ways and means to secure and develop Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, they are indeed, legitimate.

However, dissenting views begin to depart from legitimate debate when they pertain, not to how to preserve or promote Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but to transforming it into something qualitatively different.

Thus, when one is on a soccer field, there are different tactics and styles one may adopt as long as they conform to the rules of soccer. What one cannot do is adopt methods that contravene these rules. Thus, for example, one cannot pick up the ball and run with it or tackle the opponents as if it was a rugby match. If a player objects to being precluded from using his hands and persists in violating the rules, he will be removed from the field. Indeed, he may even be removed from the team and advised to join a rugby club, where he will no longer be bound by the rules to which he objected.

Violating the ‘rules of the game’

Although some might find this analogy somewhat simplistic, it is in many ways both appropriate and illuminating.

Readers may recall that in my previous column, Time to bar the Joint List, I underscored the perverse paradoxical practice that prevails in Israel, whereby anti-Zionist parties are persistently permitted to participate in parliamentary elections, despite being in flagrant violation of the “rules of the game” i.e., the law setting out the conditions for such participation.

Thus, Clause 7A of Basic Law: The Knesset prohibits a person or a party from participating in Knesset elections if their “objects or actions … expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

  • negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state;
  • incitement to racism;
  • support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”

Indeed, even a cursory perusal of the official platforms both of the Joint List itself and its component factions reflect a stark rejection of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people as set out in the Declaration of Independence, as well as an equally stark violation of the letter (and spirit) of the Basic Law stipulating the conditions for participating in the national parliamentary elections.

Judicial gobbledygook no substitute for common sense

In earlier pieces, I cataloged the innate and enduring enmity shown by the Knesset members of the Arab parties comprising the Joint List towards the founding ethos of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and their unequivocal identification with Israel’s most vehement enemies—see for example here. (For additional chronicles by others, see here and here.)

Such malfeasance included, among other things: spying for Hezbollah in 2006; smuggling mobile phones to convicted terrorists in prison; consorting with leaders of enemy states; expressing support for terrorist organizations; and justifying attacks against IDF personnel and civilians across the 1967 Green line.

Yet despite clear evidence that the objects and the actions of both the people and the party consistently and continually contravene the legal provisions for participation in elections, neither the Joint List nor any of its constituent factions, nor any of its recalcitrant candidates have been barred from taking part in them.

But the generals of Blue and White cannot invoke unfathomable judicial decisions to underwrite their political actions—for judicial gobbledygook is no substitute for common sense—or a sense of national responsibility.

After all, by attempting to co-opt the anti-Zionist Joint List, whether actively or passively, into the formation of a governing coalition, they are in effect, inadvertently or otherwise, contributing towards legitimizing and promoting its anti-Zionist agenda—or, at minimum, aiding in facilitating it. After all, the Joint List will not lend its support to Blue and White without extracting a heavy price in terms of advancing its anti-Zionist aims, which hitherto have been (rightly) thwarted by a Zionist majority in the legislature.

Conflating two separate issues: Arab ethnicity vs. Arab enmity

The brouhaha over Blue and White’s approach to the Joint List causes two separate issues to be conflated and confused.

The one relates to the voting rights of the Arab minority, the other to the nature of the parties that they can vote for.

This confusion was clearly reflected this week in an article by New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, David Halbfinger, titled “Israel Faces a Defining Question: How Much Democracy Should Arabs Get?” In it, he asks “Are the votes of Arab citizens worth as much as those of Jews?

There is, of course, no dispute in Israel that its Arab citizens have the right to vote.

But in the context of the preceding analysis, the “worth” of their vote is not –and should not be determined by who cast them, but who they were cast for. Likewise, there also should be no dispute that there is a qualitative difference (i.e., a structural inequality) between votes cast for parties that wish to undermine and dismantle the Jewish nation-state and those who wish to protect and preserve it—however vehemently they may disagree on how that is to be done.

In this regard, Israel’s Arab citizens voted almost monolithically for the former—i.e., for the Joint List. It is thus not their ethnicity that determines attitudes to their votes, but their enmity.

Of course, none of this is abstruse rocket science. None of it is unknown to the leaders of Blue and White. And yet, they persist in their seemingly obsessive effort to include the inimical Joint List in determining the fate of the Jewish nation-state (see Gantz’s latest demand to include the Joint List in the broad emergency government suggested by Netanyahu to deal with the current coronavirus crisis).

It’s difficult to find any convincing explanation for this disturbing depravity on the part of Blue and White, other than that the deep-seated ad hominem opprobrium, which its leaders harbor for Netanyahu, has befuddled their judgement, warped their priorities and caused them to succumb to the dreaded BDS: the “Bibi Derangement Syndrome.”

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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