Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to the Israeli Arab community on Monday, and he was right to do so.
Since the Likud party's victory in the election a week ago, it seems that we have lost sight of the most important issues, such as housing prices and the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. Instead, with the media's encouragement, we have moved on to the conflicts between the Left and the Right, between Arabs and Jews, between Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews. We have even witnessed fights between senior journalists on these issues. So what should we do in a situation like this one? First of all, we need to calm down. Netanyahu's apology came precisely in that spirit.
Netanyahu understands that a prime minister has privileges, but he or she has many more duties. A prime minister must ensure security, welfare and, especially, calm. This means that he has to intervene, particularly after his election-day comments — that Arab citizens were coming to the polls in droves and were being bused in to vote by left-wing NGOs — were taken as hurtful by Israeli Arabs. Netanyahu felt he was making a political point, not a racist one. Though it is hard to say it was elegantly phrased.
Legitimate Political Consideration
It is no secret that the Joint Arab List includes many who are not — how shall we say this delicately — Zionists. We can assume that those who vote for a party that includes MK Hanin Zoabi did not rush to the polls to vote Likud. And that is their right.
In this sensitive reality, Netanyahu could have chosen to phrase his comments differently, though I have no doubt about the legitimate political, and not racist, intention behind his words. The moment that the Israeli Arab community was hurt, Netanyahu had to step in. Civil war is found in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, not here in Israel. In democracies, it is only words — thank God — that hurt us. In democracies, leaders apologize to their citizens.
The Right Foot
However, the response to the apology surprised me. On Monday evening, I was invited for an interview at a media outlet in Jaffa. I sat opposite a former Labor — sorry, Zionist Union — MK who did not accept the apology and also did not understand why the prime minister apologized in the way he did — that is to say, to Arab leaders rather than to Arab Joint List members. Sorry?
Joint Arab List leader Ayman Ouda — a moderate, or so they say — was quick to reject the apology. What exactly did he expect from Netanyahu? To reject the election results? To transfer 30 seats to his party? Or maybe he just wanted Likud to join the Joint Arab List.
Benjamin Netanyahu & Barack Obama
Actions? Perhaps Netanyahu should bring the Joint Arab List into the coalition and offer it the foreign affairs and finance portfolios. Perhaps the defense portfolio as well.
It seems that the White House has crossed every last line. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough did not hide the administration's opinion on the split between Washington and Jerusalem when he spoke at the annual J Street conference on Monday. The White House wants a Palestinian state now, and the newly elected Israeli government does not. It's one thing for those in Washington to have a problem with Netanyahu, but they should at least respect Israeli voters. That's democracy, right?
The prime minister's apology on Monday should allow the new government to start on the right foot. But that's exactly the problem with those who can't accept the results, including, apparently, U.S. President Barack Obama. According to his plans, the Israeli government was suppose to start on the Left foot. Israeli voters, however, preferred the Right foot.
It's true, we are a small country and we need to get along with our big ally. But they must also learn to get used to living with us.
[Written by: Boaz Bismuth]