Home Politics Opinion: Anti-Arab sentiment a talking point in Netanyahu’s re-election

Opinion: Anti-Arab sentiment a talking point in Netanyahu’s re-election

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In an all-too-unpredictable move to try and mobilize sympathetic sentiment for his presidency just days before the voting, incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that a Palestinian state would not become a reality if he were re-elected to a fourth term. It’s an election promise that could easily walk back on, and the re-elected PM has since backed away from this seemingly concrete promise.

But it wasn’t the only controversial election statement he made, which is understandable in any big electoral race. Netanyahu also, in a last-ditch attempt to shore up support (as he was seen to be down in a few polls), noted that Arabs were coming to the polls, specifically saying, translated into English, “Arab voters are going to the polls in droves.”

The promise came as no surprise, and it is no surprise he’s backing away from those comments, as he should.

The later point, which amounted to a warning about Arab voters coming and seemingly threatening the Likud party leader’s hold on power, came from a practice used commonly by politicians worldwide — fear-mongering. Nothing more, nothing less.

To understand that this wasn’t just an observation so much as it was arguably racist fear-mongering, you have to understand — at least at a basic level — the divide that exists between Israelis of Arab descent and other Israelis, namely Israeli-Zionist thinking/governing and stark racial divides between said groups.

A basic understanding of Israeli politics paints a portrait of Zionist practice at an institutionalized level. Arabic and Palestinian discontent is one that has been strongly voiced since the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948, with some nations evening claiming that Israel does not have a right to exist as a state. While I won’t make that claim, oppressive tactics within Palestine (just look at Gaza) have incurred the wrath of much of the international community, and racism still pervades much of Israeli society. And that’s well deserved. Zionist practices (such as colonial settling and demolishing of housing within Palestinian communities) are some of the most basic examples of Zionist misdeeds. It’s appalling to see long-time Palestinian residents being driven out of their homes. And that doesn’t even begin to address what nears apartheid in Palestine. Policing of Palestinian communities and military occupation in majority Palestinian villages showcases strong mistrust and attempts to demonstrate strength over the primarily Islamic populations.

Netanyahu went out of his way to make anxiety-inducing comments about Arabs coming to the polls, and as many Israelis know, there is a strong feeling of discomfort and subtle racism that pervades Israeli thought on Israel Arabs or Palestinians.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has “Stopped the Boats,” is one example of a racist, fear-mongerer. Additionally, countless numbers of American politicians have threatened voters with the prospect of “Welfare Queens” and portrayal of black or Hispanic communities as dangers to public well being in “tough on crime” commercials. Politicians love subtle racism.

Republican leaders and people critical of Arabs and Muslims have stepped to the plate to defend Netanyahu’s statements. For example, Bill Maher suggested:

“I heard a lot of commentators here say, it would been as if Mitt Romney, in 2012, on the eve of the election said, ‘Black voters are coming out in droves to the polls.’ But I don’t know if that’s really a great analogy. I think that would be a good analogy if America was a country that was surrounded by 12 or 13 completely black nations who had militarily attacked us many times, including as recently as last year. Would we let them vote? I don’t know. When we were attacked by the Japanese, we didn’t just not let them vote, we rounded them up and put them in camps.”

So his comments at face value seem to decry both the reprehensible actions of past U.S. politicians who used race for the sake of fear-mongering but also didn’t demonize them for it. More so, he seems to be saying that Netanyahu’s racist warnings are legitimized by the fact that Israel has been attacked by other Arabic and majority Islamic nations, referring of course to conflicts with Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Taking outside sentiments and perceiving it as reason to mistreat citizens that you are supposed to have responsibility for…well, that seems pretty shady to me.

Republicans (surprise!) have defended Netanyahu’s words, including Senator John McCain.

For some reason, people are STILL going to McCain for foreign policy expertise. McCain recently chided Obama for remarks about Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric. “The president should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President.” He continued, “The least of your problems are what Bibi Netanyahu said in a political campaign. If every politician was held to what they said in a political campaign obviously that would be a topic of long discussion,” said McCain.

Wait, so we can’t be critical of offensive or damaging claims made in the heat of campaign season? Funny, that hasn’t stopped Republican politicians ever.

Obama had voiced concern over Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric in an interview with the Huffington Post.

“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” said Obama.

Sure, we can get over Netanyahu’s comments. For anyone critical of Likud and far-right leadership or Zionism as a whole (as I continue to be) in Israel, it’s not a surprise that he made these comments. We should all certainly condemn them and try to understand how his anti-Arab remarks are indicative of broader racist sentiments in the United States’ favorite ally.

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