The Myth of Netanyahu’s Racism
Why Netanyahu got his best numbers among Arab voters.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/03/lq.jpg)Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party got its best numbers not in Jerusalem, where it only won a quarter of the vote, or Sderot, the city under siege where it still got less than half, or Maaleh Adumim, a city of some 40,000 known as a “settlement” because it is located in ’67 Israel where it also took less than half.
Its best numbers appear to have come from Arab-al-Naim, a Bedouin settlement, where it scored three-quarters of the vote.
The residents were uninterested in any of the accusations of racism being aimed at Netanyahu by the media. Instead they were interested in housing. As one resident put it, “I used to sleep in a cave with my goats. Now I ask my daughter what wallpaper she wants in her room.”
Netanyahu’s election comment about Arabs being bused in to vote has been seized on as a useful excuse to explain how the media’s poll numbers that showed Netanyahu losing align with the actual results by claiming that a rash of racist Israelis rushed to vote. But that fails to explain why the exit polls were still badly wrong. A more realistic explanation is that the media’s polling was biased against Netanyahu. But it’s easier for the media to accuse Netanyahu of racism than admit to its own biases.
When Netanyahu warned about Arabs being bused in, he obviously was not talking about his own Arab voters, but the Joint Arab List whose MKs include Ahmed Tibi, who claimed that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, Tibi’s brother-in-law, Osama Sa’adi, who represented Hamas terrorists, Haneen Zoabi, who met with Hamas officials and defended the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and Jamal Zahalka, who attended a Hamas rally and claimed that Israel would be destroyed.
Also on the list is Masud Ghanim, a Muslim Brotherhood member who called for replacing Israel with an Islamic Caliphate and stated that he supports Hezbollah.
The Joint Arab List is composed of several parties. Hadash has its roots in the Israeli Communist Party. Despite the name, it rejects Israel and its only remaining Jewish MK is Boris ‘Dov’ Khenin, the son of David Khenin the party’s co-founder and General Secretary of the Communist Youth Union. Balad was founded by Azmi Bishara who fled Israel after being investigated as an enemy spy. Balad had already been suspended for calling for war against Israel. The United Arab List emerged out of the local Muslim Brotherhood franchise and is stacked with Muslim Brotherhood members.
The Muslim Brotherhood believes that the Islamic apocalypse requires exterminating the Jews.
The Joint Arab List unites Communists with Islamists into one big political terrorist organization. The reasons why Netanyahu and Israelis would be concerned about its members picking up seats are obvious. Imagine Communists sitting in the Senate during the Cold War and Al Qaeda members sitting there now. As Arab al-Naim shows, the issue was not ethnicity; it was Islamic terrorism.
The media’s cries of racism fail to explain places like Arab-al-Naim where the Arab vote helped Netanyahu. Or the Arab-Druze town of Abu Sinan where Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, despite its media image as right-wing, captured almost 14 percent of the vote. But then again the “xenophobic” and “racist” party has Hamad Amar, a Druze IDF veteran, in the sixth place on its list.
In Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Druze lawmaker Ayoub Kara returned to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. If Obama thinks that Netanyahu is far right, he hasn’t met Ayoub Kara who urged protesters, “Say ‘No!’ to Barack Hussein Obama and ‘Yes!’ to the nation of Israel.”
“Everyone understands that withdrawing from land will yield us nothing but a ‘red carpet’ at the ‘peace treaty’ signing ceremony,” he said during the campaign.
Netanyahu didn’t win Kara’s village of Isifya. The center-right Kulanu party running on a program of social development and economic reform did. The Likud barely placed, but Yisrael Beiteinu scored 10 percent of the vote.
While there is an Arab bloc, the Arab vote is also a lot more complicated than it seems.
There are Arab Christians who define themselves as Aramaic rather than Arab and minority groups such as the Druze and the Bedouin who have a different relationship with Israel than the stone-throwing Keffiyah-wearer prized by European protest tourists.
From the earliest days of the reborn state, entire clans and ethnic groups aligned for or against Israel. Thus the Al-Husayini clan, which gave the world Hitler’s Mufti and Arafat, led the campaign against Israel while the Abu Ghosh family maintained friendly relations with the Jews. Druze and Bedouin serve in the Israeli army and there is a growing movement of Arab Christians who have decided to serve as well.
Netanyahu has met with Father Gabriel Naddaf who has led the movement, and Naddaf identifies as Aramaic, rather than Arab, while encouraging other Christians to reclaim an Aramaic heritage. In Jish, the Maronite Christian center of the Aramean revival, the United Arab List won decisively, but Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu scored 11 percent. 5 people even cast votes for Yachad. Shas, the party of Middle Eastern Jews, came in sixth.
The media has accused Netanyahu of offering a bigoted appeal by warning about Arab voters being bused in. It doesn’t care to dwell on the subject of which group would be most moved by such an appeal. That would reveal certain inconvenient facts about the relationships of the Israeli left.
The Israeli left remains a project of European Ashkenazi Jews. The Middle Eastern Mizrahi Jews were refugees from Muslim persecution and want a strong leadership that protects the country. The left gets a fraction of its vote from Middle Eastern Jews. Netanyahu gets half his votes from them.
The Israelis most likely to respond to anti-Muslim rhetoric are refugees from Muslim countries. The lefty activists most likely to condemn them as racist colonizers emigrated from Russia and Germany.
Meretz, Israel’s farthest left party, has an Arab MK. It has no Mizrahi MKs. Yisrael Beiteinu has a Druze and a Mizrahi MK. Israel’s right is more fundamentally diverse than its left and its stronger stand on Islamic terrorism helps it pick up support from Jewish and non-Jewish minorities.
Lieberman does better than Netanyahu among some Arab voters because he projects strength. When he talks about cutting off the heads of traitors, he’s speaking with a vocabulary that is entirely familiar in the region. Nobody in the Middle East picks the weak horse and those Arabs who support Israel prefer the bellicose Lieberman to the more moderate Netanyahu.
“Even in a hundred years’ time, the Middle East will not speak Yiddish and the answer to terror is a deterrent penalty,” Ayoub Kara said.
Those Arabs that support Israel want to see a strong country and they don’t wring their hands when conservative Israeli politicians say politically incorrect things. The Joint Arab List wants to see it gone and those who vote for them are no more likely to spare the Jewish State no matter how softly it speaks.
Israel’s cultural conflict is a complex one. It doesn’t just pit Jews against Arabs or Muslims against Jews, it pits Arab Druze against European Jewish leftists and Aramean Christians against Arab Muslims. The left prefers cheap shots to actually understanding the complexities of a country that can’t be summed up with a keffiyah and a protest sign. After their election defeat, Obama and the media have decided to reduce Israel to Netanyahu and Netanyahu to the devil. It’s the easy way out, but it fails to take account of men like Ayoub Kara or Father Naddaf, of the Likud landslide in Arab-al-Naim and of Lieberman’s wins in Arab towns and villages. The Jews and Arabs are more complex than the left would like them to be.