Racism is a hot commodity these days. The heads of party lists and candidates for the local elections to be held at the end of the month are making use of the potential electoral gains that campaigns of incitement, sedition, and the oppression of minorities. Let’s examine what’s going on, not in small or distant communities, but in the three largest cities in Israel.
In Tel Aviv, the Likud list is publishing — on billboards, in ads on bus stations, and in videos on social media — messages that say: “It’s us or them — the Hebrew city or the PLO,” “It’s us or them — the Hebrew city or the city of the infiltrators,” The pictures are accompanied by the caption: “It’s us, the Likud, who will keep Tel Aviv-Jaffa in Israel, or the pro-Palestinian parties that want an Islamic Jaffa and a state for infiltrators in south Tel Aviv.”
This campaign of separation and intimidation is led by Arnon Giladi, who has been head of the Likud list in the city for years. Giladi’s sudden concern for the safety of the Jewish residents of southern Tel Aviv is surprising. He serves as deputy mayor. These are the same residents — some of whom have been expelled or are about to be expelled from their homes by real estate tycoons with the consent of the municipality — whose problems Giladi has ignored for years. Now, suddenly, he conveniently remembers them and tries to win their support by stoking the tensions that exist with other residents of the city.
In Haifa, the head of the Jewish Home list, Yoav Ramati, was selected in an even more direct and practical manner than that of Giladi. According to media reports, Ramati is involved in preparing a list of Jewish shop-owners in the Talpiot market in Haifa. The list, which will be published on Facebook, will also include pictures of their stalls in order to strengthen the Jewish hold on commerce in Haifa. According to Ramati, creating this list is a contribution of the religious public to Zionism. Perhaps someone should mention to him that he is not the first to keep track of Jewish businesses. The practice of distinguishing Jewish businesses is well-known from the 1930’s and 40’s in Nazi Germany. In the meantime, there has yet to be any condemnation of Ramati’s campaign from the leader of his party, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who is busy these days in America denouncing what he terms “a trend of hatred” at the University of Michigan.
And in Jerusalem, there’s drama between four candidates for mayor: Moshe Leon, Yossi Deitch, Ze’ev Elkin and Ofer Berkovitch. Last weekend, in a televised debate between the candidates on ‘Meet the Press,’ journalist Rina Matzliah asked, “Can an Arab soccer player play for Beitar Jerusalem?” Leon explained that he thought they would need to go with what the fans want. Elkin replied that it was a professional decision that the mayor should not get involved in. Deitch said that he didn’t follow soccer well enough to comment. Only Berkovitch asserted that there should be no reason that an Arab player shouldn’t play for Beitar Jerusalem.
Imagine a television program in which the presenter asked candidates running to be mayor of a city in the United States, in France, or in Italy a question about whether a Jewish player should be integrated onto a local team, some of whose fans are anti-Semitic. This makes it easier to understand how the answers which Leon, Elkin,and Deutsch gave are racist and immoral.
The deterioration in the racist and inflammatory tone in the local political arena is no coincidence. Local politic simply mimics national politics. The incitement against Arab citizens of Israel, and the delegitimization of their right to vote, have yielded good political results for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here, as in other countries, politicians find that stoking xenophobia, feeding fear, and inventing imagined enemies are effective political moves. The problem is that the day after the elections, after the campaigns of hatred and incitement, all of us — Jews and Arabs, leftists and rightists, refugees and migrant workers — will have to live here together.
*This article was originally published in Hebrew in Yediot Achronot. It is reprinted here with permission.