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What Yair Lapid's anti-Zoabi comments reveal about Israeli politics

February 17, 2014 at 1:50 am

It is not considered racist in Israel to discriminate against 20 percent of the population and the millions more living in the occupied West Bank. It is considered the self-determination of the Jewish people.
The few words Yair Lapid said to the press the day after the election that made his Yesh Atid party the second largest in Israel, are still troubling me. Ami Kaufman mentioned it in his post, but I think it merits a bit more attention, since while we in Israel may be desensitized and no longer shocked, it really is quite disturbing. Those following news here should know that his statement, in a nutshell, exposes not only what kind of politician he is going to be, but what is so rotten in the State of Israel.

The “z” he added on to the end of MK Haneen Zoabi’s name was presumably his way to indicate the plural form of Zoabi, using her name to refer to all Arab parties as one big bloc with no differences, that he would never form a coalition with.  As Ami wrote, “his first act was to delegitimize 20 percent of the population with a statement that was borderline racism…the evil evil Zoabis.” Presumably, Lapid used the colloquial, Anglo-influenced way Israelis sometimes incorporate English into the language by adding an “s” at the end of a word to make it plural – only it came out a “z” sound, hence “Zoabiz.” The term has become a running joke among my co-workers, laughing about how we’ll go to “Zoabiz” for a drink after work, or simply labeling people “Zoabiz” when you are annoyed with them. It is now part of the Israeli lexicon.
While Haneen Zoabi herself reacted to the statement by calling Lapid racist, I’m not convinced it is that Lapid is racist per se. It is certainly possible that he thinks Zoabi and many other Arabs are Jews-hating terrorists, but what is worse is that in contemporary Israel, you don’t qualify as racist just because you want to live only among Jews and seek to govern exclusively without Arabs. It is not considered racism in Israel to discriminate against 20% of the population and millions more living in the occupied West Bank. It is considered the self-determination of the Jewish people.
In this paradigm, as Lapid so eloquently stated, what it means to be “Israeli” and the value of Israeli “citizenship” can only mean one thing: being Jewish. That is why it makes so much sense that Lapid’s claim to fame is that he wants all Jews in Israel without exception to be soldiers in the IDF (a significant percentage of Israeli fighter pilots reportedly voted Lapid). He has no respect for the concept of civil equality before the law, and it does not matter to him that over a million citizens do not share his religious, cultural, lingual or national sentiments, or that among the Arab population in Israel, there is a wide variety of sectors, whether Bedouin, religious, secular, etc. He doesn’t care about them.
So whether or not one chooses to see Lapid’s statement as racist, the real issue here is not that many Israelis are necessarily racist against Arabs (although this is certainly a problem) but rather that no Jewish leader of Israel has yet to properly address what the hell it means to be “Israeli.”