Above the auditorium near my house in Haifa, ordinarily a stage for cultural events, a huge sign continues to soar, reading “culture will win”. The sign carries both the outcry of the deserted venue, its activities having been suspended in light of the pandemic, as well as the hope that the cultural achievements and joint efforts of civilized beings, will make possible, at the end of the day, the overcoming of the threats looming over our lives with the outbreak of Covid-19.
Against the background of the viral outbreak, posing a menace to all citizens, irrespective of differences of sex, religion or nationality, Israeli society with all of its social variance seemed united in its battle with the virus, people partaking in the struggle, unified around the primary angst and concern over existence under threat. Theories abounded, a product of wishful hopes – as Freud says – that perhaps the war within the storm will reinstate a new order of social solidarity – abandoning the old wars which relied on divisions and partitioning – generating a world which reconnects mankind and links social rifts on the basis of acceptance and concern for the other. The stalwart position of the medical teams, particularly the collaboration between the Arab and Jewish professionals, became exemplary of this upheld solidarity, generating praise and instilling hope that the world might, indeed, assume a new countenance following the pandemic.
Concurrent with the emergence of Covid-19, Israeli society was undergoing its third round of elections, with no decisive outcomes among the extreme parties fighting over the leadership of the country. The right wing of the Likud Party on the one hand, and the Center Left Party on the other, the Joint List being affiliated with the latter. Most of the Arab public in Israel supports the Joint List, the latter relying primarily but not solely, on the voice of Arab citizens while not aligned with the so-called consensus of the Zionist parties.
The outcome of the elections revealed that the Left Block, together with the Joint List, have a majority vote that can replace the longstanding sovereignty of the Right. There was talk about the possible collaboration between the Center Zionist Left Block and the Joint List forming a majority coalition, relying on the extimate support of the Joint List.
In his staunch battle to wield power, we were able to witness Bibi Netanyahu trying to rewrite the outcome of the elections while making his appearance on television, attempting to prove that the Right Wing under his leadership, won the elections. Bibi listed the number of mandates of the Right Block while erasing from the Left Center Block the number of Parliament members from the Joint List (including Parliament member, Offer Kasif, who happens to be of Jewish ancestry), declaring they constitute a terrorism supporting list and therefore cannot to be counted as a legitimate part of the political scene.
President Rivlin was quick to respond to this act of erasure, declaring that in the state of Israel, “all votes are counted, “there is no voice and half a voice”, despite divisions and profound differences that sometimes exist among us”. In my view, this is a voice of sanity that can still be heard in Israel in face of this act of trying to exclude an entire population – which for a moment was able to assume a vital place as partner in fighting the virus – barring it from voicing its opinion, considering it unacceptable as far as the destiny of the country in which it lives is concerned.
If we read these inscription attempts of Netanyahu and try to rewrite them, it may be said that in his listings, Netanyahu is expressing the voice of the national ideal calling the conditioning of citizenship and rights of Israeli citizens at large, including Arab, upon the degree of their subservience and compliance with the National Zionist ideal. This is not a new tendency, led for years by various forces, particularly by the Right in the form of legislation of laws attempting to stipulate the granting of rights based on alignment with this ideal, a push, in a way, towards national monotheism that everyone must accept and salute.
This tendency is a derivative of an old position, not necessarily invented by the Right, embedded from the outset in the Zionist discourse, treating the Arab civilians as subordinates with conditional rights and not as citizens with equal rights, among which, is the right to question or express a differing view regarding the nature of the government or the state. The tendency is certainly not unrelated to the difficult tension between the Jewishness of the country and its democracy nor is it unrelated to the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is failing to find a resolution.
Beyond the underlying narrow motives to maintain power, Netanyahu’s claims levelled at the Arab public representatives – the verification of which would be a formal investigation and courts of law – harbor a serious danger concerning the limits of public discourse and the freedom of one’s word and opinion. For the message that ensue from such claims is non-equivocal: if one does not align with the Zionist ideal, one is necessarily ousted as a supporter of terrorism. There is something of an ideational terror in such a claim.
If truth be said, it is on account of his attempt at writing and erasing and by virtue of his political maneuvering talents, that Netanyahu succeeded in fracturing the new “coalition” that could replace him, constructing thereafter a new government under his leadership. It is possible to mark this “accomplishment” of Netanyahu and his partners as a renewed declaration of faith in and a return to the old order of the national names of the father that entrap and perpetuate the ongoing conflict between the two people, Jews and Palestinians. By “national names of the father” I mean those symbolic configurations on which rest the national ethos of the two sides. It is only through the traversal of these configurations, that, in my opinion, the establishment of a new order will be made possible, which will have the capacity to respond differently to the real of the lives of the people who share a space, with all its variation and differences.
Translated by Yotvat Elberbaum
Image credit:A special polling station for voters quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus,in Tel Aviv on March 1, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)