The gatekeepers of Israeli democracy chalked up several victories in recent days. The most important one was thwarting plans by two of nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane’s meritorious disciples to run for the Knesset and pollute its benches.
Such a plan could have taken place. The two — Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party (Jewish Power) — might have been on the ballot had the Supreme Court rejected on Aug. 25 an appeal against their inclusion on the candidates’ list of Otzma Yehudit. The petitioners objected the decision made earlier by the Central Elections Committee to allow Marzel and Gopstein to run in the Sept. 17 elections, despite the attorney general’s recommendation to disqualify the two.
Eight justices out of the nine who made up the panel accepted the petition submitted by the Blue and White party, the Democratic Camp, the Labor party, Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and a dozen citizens, among them Knesset member Issawi Freij from Meretz, to disqualify Mazrel and Gopstein. Only Justice Noam Solberg rejected the petition. Solberg also joined his colleagues who rejected the petitioners’ request to disqualify the entire Otzma Yehudit party and its leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Now, emissaries sent by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are offering Ben-Gvir — and also Moshe Feiglin, chair of the ultra-right Zehut party — cushy jobs in the next government, in exchange for dropping out of the race. Netanyahu fears that Otzma Yehudit will not pass the Knesset-entry threshold of four seats, thus "waste" right-wing votes.
In order to understand the meaning of the vote by the General Elections Committee, who acted like representatives of the ruling right wing and the religious parties against the attorney general’s recommendations — and to appreciate the importance of the opposition’s appeal, it is worth studying the Supreme Court’s ruling. Among other things, the justices cited a comment by Marzel, saying, “Every Arab has turned into a suspicious package these days. … I am not saying all of them, but 99% give a bad name to the 1% whom I don’t know.” The “solution” Marzel proposed was “to send the enemies to the Arab states! There they will enjoy as much Arab rule as their heart desires.”
As for Gopstein, he said at a memorial ceremony for Kahane, “Today, everyone understands that there is no coexistence with them. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of ministers in the government … who encourage coexistence, who allow them [the Arabs] to survive, place them in high-tech industries, allow them to become doctors.”
He forgot to condemn those “who allow them” to be singers and actors, poets and orchestra conductors, and even to appear alongside kosher Jews and Jewesses in front of a mixed audience of Jews and Arabs, men and women. Such performances took place Aug. 18-21 at the Zimriya, the World Assembly of Choirs held at the Crusader Knights' Hall in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Acre. This was another victory for the supporters of democracy. It was the victory of an open and inclusive Israel. A victory for public personalities and festival organizers who will not have the voices of artists silenced — voices of artists who preach for peace and against war.
The opening performance of the Zimriya featured Jewish singer David Broza with the Galilee Orchestra under the direction of Israeli Arab Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar. The following day, singer Achinoam Nini (known as "Noa" outside Israel), along with musician Gili Dor, hosted her Arab singing partner Mira Awad, and on the third day, the Jewish-Arab Voices of Peace Choir under the direction of Yair Dalal appeared on stage. The festival wrapped up with a concert by Arab singer Lina Makhoul and the CGV Choir directed by the noted orchestra conductor Andre de Quadros. At the other festival venues, Jewish and Arab conductors led musical workshops and performances of Jewish, Arab and mixed choirs.
The performance by Noa — a leading left-wing activist who does not keep her strong views to herself; she wrote in a January 2017 Facebook post, “Bibi Netanyahu is also a narcissistic, paranoid, vulgar racist like Trump” — at public events in Israel is not to be taken for granted. In December 2017, the municipality of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod gave in to pressure from right-wing residents and politicos and canceled Noa’s performance at an event designed to promote coexistence organized by a nongovernmental organization called “A New Way.”
Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, a member of the Likud party, who addressed the festival’s opening event, told Al-Monitor he was unimpressed with those on the right pushing for the city to withdraw its sponsorship of the Zimriya. Lankri is proud of the fact that one of his deputies is a member of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party and another is an Arab affiliated with the Islamic movement. Not only that, the representation of the city’s Arab minority — about one-third of the residents — on the city council is slightly higher than its share of the population.
For Gopstein’s information, Culture Minister Miri Regev of the Likud has joined the list of government ministers encouraging and, alas, even funding Jewish-Arab coexistence. Her ministry’s logo graced the top of the festival program brochure. The chair of the festival, former Knesset member Colette Avital even thanked Regev for her support of the musical event, where the performers’ voices rang out in Arabic and Hebrew singing about peace and equality.
The Jewish-Arab Women’s Choir from Jaffa sang a version of singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein’s “Had Gadya” in both languages. The song includes the lines, “I used to be a sheep and a calm kid, today I am a leopard and a predator wolf/ I have been a dove, and I have been a deer/ Today I don’t know who I am.” The lyrics end with the resounding question, “How much longer will the circle of horror last?”
It is too bad that Yaron London, a presenter of a primetime culture program on the Kan public broadcasting channel, was not in the audience. He might have saved himself and his viewers the racist on-air comment he made on Aug. 26 to the effect that “Arabs are savages.” In this case, too, just as in the petition against the racists of Otzma Yehudit and just like the Jewish-Arab festival that was sponsored by the government, the gatekeepers won the day. The severe reprimand by the channel’s managers resulted in a speedy apology by London for his hurtful remark. Perhaps the most fitting finale was delivered in the immortal commandment embroidered in white biblical script on Noa’s gown: “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself."
However, one must not forget a key point: Broza and Awad, Noa and Dor, Dalal and Makhoul, and all the other festival performers are first and foremost gifted musicians, artists who broke through due to their artistic talents.
It is only fitting to end with the words of the song “In Your Eyes” written and sung by Noa and Awad together with Dor in Hebrew, Arabic and English: “A long road we will pass together, a road so hard, together to the light/ And the tears are dripping, flowing in vain, pain with no name and we are waiting just for the day after, for tomorrow.” Over the past week we have also been given a taste of the song’s refrain, “There must be another way.”
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