Ben-Gvir during protest
Photo: Yonatan Hauerstock

Fringe games

Op-ed: Extreme-Right threatens Israel's democratic character; Arab MKs fight country's Jewish character

The demand to disqualify extreme-Right candidates has come up during every election campaign since the Kach movement was outlawed. Those who demand the disqualification of certain rightists cite racism, protection of democracy and membership in an illegal organization. This is also the case with Itamar Ben-Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Michael Ben-Ari.


The concerns are based on ideology, but an examination of the history of the three musketeers from the dazed Right finds that they are responsible mainly for gimmicks, such as bringing dozens of Sudanese refugees to the pool at Tel Aviv's Gordon Beach and starting fights at the market in Hebron – they'll do anything to get media attention.


On the eve of Gilad Shalit's release the ministers gathered to hear a briefing on the terrorists Israel was releasing in the framework of the prisoner exchange deal and the terror attacks they were responsible for.


As Netanyahu's director of communications and public diplomacy, I also attended this meeting. When I left the room to meet the reporters waiting outside, I noticed Ben-Gvir standing there with signs against the release of terrorists. I recognized his face from television, and I agreed with what was written on the signs. He approached me, smiled and shook my hand. "This is not against you," he said. I nodded, expecting a much fiercer resistance from the national camp, but all I found was a man who was on the fringe of the extreme Right.


We exchanged a few more words in a comfortable atmosphere. A few minutes later, as I was explaining the government's policy to a reporter, Ben-Gvir appeared again. His smile was gone, and he began yelling out my name, asking if I was not ashamed of myself. The performance lasted only a few seconds, but he repeated it when I interviewed with reporters from other television channels. Once the cameras were turned off, he bid me farewell with a smile. The provocation was not personal.


I am telling you this story because it is an important lesson in understanding the fringes of Israeli politics. The calls to outlaw Ben-Gvir and his friends serve as a test for Israeli democracy. It is a fine line that separates provocations and illegal acts. Provocations look and smell bad, but they are still legal.


Hanin Zoabi aboard Mavi Marmara ship (archives)
Hanin Zoabi aboard Mavi Marmara ship (archives)


The extreme-Right is no different from extreme leftists or members of the Arab parties. Take the National Democratic Assembly's Hanin Zoabi for example. Zoabi, who is following in the footsteps of Azmi Bishara, is a professional provocateur who regularly takes part in anti-Israel activities that are almost illegal. The list is long: Meetings with representatives of terror organizations, participation in the Mavi Marmara flotilla and calls to boycott Israel. Other Arab lawmakers have taken part in similar activities over the years. You would be hard pressed to find any parliamentary work they have done for the benefit of Israel's Arabs. Like Ben-Gvir and his associates, these MKs are mostly about provocations and inflammatory rhetoric.


As a Jew and an Israeli who believes in our right to this land I find it more difficult to deal with the extreme rightists than with Zoabi and her ilk. The extreme-rightists contradict my entire worldview and cause me to question our moral right. But as someone who believes in democracy and equality before the law, I know that Zoabi and her associates also pose a severe problem for the State of Israel.


If the Kahanists are fighting Israel's democratic character, as those who demand their disqualification claim, then the Zoabis are fighting Israel's Jewish character. Both camps are dangerous, but both are also protected by freedom pf expression.



פרסום ראשון: 10.31.12, 11:24
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