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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters after first exit poll results for Israeli elections in Tel Aviv Image Credit: AP

Sometimes a mere slogan would do it, one that mysteriously taps into the zeitgeist of an era. When in 1968, for example, Phillip Morris launched Virginia Slims, the first cigarette brand marketed specifically for “liberated” women, with the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby”, the whole thing caught on.

Those half dozen words became so ingrained in the lexicon of American argot that when they were used as the title of Fatboy Slim’s 1998 acclaimed album, no one was confused.

Well, Israel too has come a long way, baby, from the image it once held, in popular opinion as in elite discourse, of a little David, inhabiting a tiny strip of land where desert was made to bloom, confronting, against overwhelming odds, a cruel Arab Goliath.

Sorry progressive Israelis, I feel for you. It may very well be that your struggle to liberate your society of bigotry is, at a seminal level, a shade more complex than our struggle to endure it


David and Goliath

The image at the time had a special appeal to ordinary Americans, who love Horatio Alger stories of self-made men and women who, with pluck and resourcefulness, are able to overcome obstacles. The David and Goliath package is now supplanted by one of a cruel and racist occupying power.

In no other venue has Israel come a long way in showing itself to the world for the ethnocentric entity that it is, and its leaders for the racists that they are, than in the last general election, held on March 2, the third this year.

Consider the sad tale of the Joint List, the coalition of four majority political parties that represent Israeli Palestinians, roughly 21 per cent of the population. In the polls two weeks ago, the List made an unprecedented showing, gaining an additional two seats, which made it the third largest bloc in the 120-seat Knesset and the major opposition party.

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Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List, in Nazareth Image Credit: NYT

Yet, not in this election nor in previous ones has one of the four parties drawn from the list ever been invited to be part of the government.

News junkies will recall that the initial results of the election showed Benjamin Netanyahu had scored a smashing victory, but less than 48 hours later hopes were dashed when it was discovered that the Likud fell short of the majority needed to form a government.

And that’s when the man behind the racist Nation State Law “accused” his rival, Benny Gantz of planning to “collaborate” with the list to form a government. For his part, Gantz, according to a news report in Haaretz, indignantly responded that he would not “in any way, shape or form do so”. Heavens, imagine, Ayman Odeh, head of the List, becoming opposition leader, entitled to receive briefings from Mossad and to meet visiting heads of state!

Bunch of Arabs

It is understood that, were that to happen, smaller opposition groups would readily combine their votes to block his appointment. Heavens! These folks lobbied so hard to pass the racist Nation State bill into law in the summer of 2018 — that effectively introduced a legal basis to render Israeli Palestinians an inferior minority — and they would not have a “bunch of Arabs” leading the opposition! Oh, the horror, the horror!

“There is no way that other [Israeli] parties would agree to have Ayman Odeh as head of the opposition and grant our community recognition and legitimacy”, said Aida Sliman, an Israeli Palestinian lawmaker from Odeh’s faction in the List.

Now extrapolate from American political culture and this would be tantamount to demanding that no African American would ever hope to become, say, House Speaker, serve in government as a cabinet minister or head a government agency, such as the State Department or the Department of Education. Symbols speak for themselves.

The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is suffused with symbols, in this case racist symbols, and it is all being played out in a symbolic environment. That’s how the political cultures of Palestinians and Israelis have evolved — from the dialectic of interaction between occupier and occupied — shaping even the way they live their ordinary lives.

Few Israelis in this instant could bring themselves, for example, to engage, let alone empathise with the bereavement discourse in Gaza, the humiliating daily grind of checkpoints in the West Bank, and the onslaught of otherness thrust on Israeli Palestinians in the old sod. These are two different worlds with two different symbolic constructs. The twain truly never meet.

Sorry progressive Israelis, I feel for you. It may very well be that your struggle to liberate your society of bigotry is, at a seminal level, a shade more complex than our struggle to endure it.

— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.

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