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The Joint List might have brought down Netanyahu, but it fell with him

Attaining Palestinian rights should not require a certificate of good conduct from Benny Gantz
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks in Tel Aviv on 2 November (AFP)

At last, the big "achievement" has been accomplished: former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz agreed to meet and be photographed with the leaders of the Joint List. The Israeli flag hung between them, after they endorsed him in an effort to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gantz, a war criminal who served as the Israeli army’s chief of staff during the 2014 war on Gaza, acknowledged the political legitimacy of those elected by the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Our forces have managed to penetrate the rightwing camp; we have now become legitimate in the eyes of the Israeli public, moving from the margins of the political scene to the reserve bench. 

On Thursday, Gantz, who was tasked with forming a coalition government with Netanyahu, said he was unable to form a majority government.

Corruption of political culture

Some of the Joint List leaders probably imagined that this was a “historic position” to take. The message of the election campaign was: “Bring down Netanyahu.” We brought him down, but we fell along with him. We fell when a photograph with an army general became a political goal in and of itself. We managed to prove our political weight in the Israeli arena, but for whose benefit?

The transformation of the slogan “one million Arab votes”, which encouraged Palestinians to vote, into the reality of being reserve players for Blue and White is not merely a matter of Israelisation or Zionisation, or a matter of linking rights to “good” political positions. 

What has occurred is self-humiliation; the slave begging his master for recognition of his humanity and legitimacy

What has happened over the past few weeks is a corruption of political culture and knowledge, using Palestinian citizens as a pawn by compromising collective and personal dignity. That is the most dangerous part of this issue. 

This deliberate corruption of the political culture, transforming it into a competition for individual stardom in the race of “who can be the most relevant to Israelis” is entirely opportunistic. Even a mediocre politician understands that Israeli society and its political parties will never accept Arabs. What has occurred is self-humiliation: the slave begging his master for recognition of his humanity and legitimacy. 

Illusory power

The reason for this corruption is political bankruptcy - the promotion of fake, illusory power to influence Zionist politics after the latter stripped us of what distinguishes us. And this approach of aligning with Zionist parties is not new. Arab parties are effectively resorting to old tools that were tested in the 1960s and 70s, but which proved futile and ineffective. 

This bankruptcy stems from a vacuum within the political discourse. It fails to offer a real political proposal or coherent demands, instead merely relying on slogans. This is bankruptcy without a vision; its compass is stardom and the desire to be accepted by the Israelis. It is not founded in political ideology, but in populist practices. 

Joint List members arrive to meet Israel’s president in Jerusalem on 22 September (AFP)
Joint List members arrive to meet Israel’s president in Jerusalem on 22 September (AFP)

How does one confront such corruption? By returning to the basics of political knowledge: no rights are granted by relinquishing collective dignity, or by linking rights to political positions and behaviours. It is confronted by acknowledging that Gantz and his predecessors are war criminals. 

Corruption is confronted with a clear discourse and honesty towards the people, making them aware that their dignity is more valuable than a chance to be on Gantz’s reserve bench.

Instead of embarrassing themselves further, the Palestinian political leadership should use this decline as an opportunity to mobilise and re-politicise the discourse around the legitimate demands and rights of the Palestinian people. Attaining basic rights should not require a certificate of good conduct from Gantz. 

Sacrificing dignity

The position taken by the Joint List has no intellectual foundation; it serves only to inflict damage and to create a superficial, populist political discourse, pushing people to give up their dignity in exchange for crumbs, or a photo with a war criminal. 

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Bankruptcy is the result of an absence of a national political project and vision inside the 1948 territories (inside Israel). This is therefore a valuable opportunity to restore politics to the public sphere and imagination, and to revitalise the project to build national institutions - those whose absence we pay for daily, sometimes through high crime rates in Palestinian towns and villages. 

At the heart of politics is freedom, and the core of freedom is human dignity. If there is no dignity, there is no freedom, and politics loses its meaning. Instead of politics, we get mediation, populism, celebrity, totalitarianism, or all of them at once. 

Let’s bring politics back to its original meaning: freedom and dignity. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Rami Mansour
Rami Mansour is the editor-In-chief of Arab48 website