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Solidarity, not directions: On Haaretz's Arabic editorial

Earlier today I posted a short Item regarding today’s Haaretz’s editorial – urging Arabs to participate in the Israeli elections – which was printed in Arabic as well. I received a lot of responses (most of them negative), so I am posting here a translation of a longer explanation which I posted in Hebrew on my Facebook wall

Even if the best of intentions were behind this editorial, it seems to me like a patronizing act which reflects many of the problems of the Israeli left. First, there is something absurd about making a plea to the Palestinians only when something is needed from them. If Haaretz were to run articles in Arabic every now and then it would have been a different story. But the precedent is being set now – a week ahead of elections in which the Palestinians represent the only potential voting bloc that can save the left.

On a deeper level, this is clearly an act that was meant for Jewish rather than Palestinian eyes, and more than it seeks to generate political action, it tells us something about the way Haaretz wishes to perceive itself. After all, the Palestinian readers of Haaretz read Hebrew (or English) and therefore do not need a translation into their “own” language. If the editors of Haaretz truly wanted to address Arab citizens which do not read the paper, they could have published a piece in one of the local Palestinian media outlets, similar to the way many other Israeli Jews have done (this certainly won’t be beneath them – quite the opposite). Contrary to what some think, there is nothing “progressive” about the act of printing a piece in Arabic. After all, even racist members of Knesset like Michael Ben-Ari and Aryeh Eldad produced a television ad in Arabic, and the army prints orders in Arabic for the Palestinian population.

To be honest, there is something about this text that feels like an order. Here is one quote:

…the Arab public has no better alternative than the civic struggle, which demands patience […]The Arab citizenry must get out and vote − for peace, for equality and for democracy.

If the editors of Haaretz were to say to the Palestinian citizens something along the lines of “we are in trouble, the left has zero chance for revival without you, we need you, come and vote” – it could have been okay. This would have been a direct approach that seeks real partnership (and naturally, it would come with a price since the Palestinians may ask something in return). But no, I have never heard a Jewish group talk to Palestinians this way. Thus, Haaretz is telling the Palestinians to vote in the name of their own interests. The natives can’t seem to understand the wonderful benefits of democracy, so the lords of the house will explain it to them. And naturally, the Palestinian cannot ask for anything in return, and he might even need to thank his overlords.

What made the editors of Haaretz think that they understand the interests of Palestinians better than Palestinians themselves? Perhaps the Palestinians are right in not showing up for the elections (I am not attempting to rule on this issue). And if the real Palestinian interest was in boycotting the elections, would Haaretz also publish a piece calling them to do so? Are those messages kept only for the times that they happen to benefit certain Jews?

Personally, I think that the populations who have high turnout are the ones that feel that they can get through the Knesset some things that they wouldn’t get in any other way. I think that the Palestinians perfectly understand the reasons for their indifference to Israeli democracy. But even if they don’t, the majority is not supposed to tell a disenfranchised minority how to fight for its own rights. The proper way to go is for Jews to use their privileges in order to change the system and express solidarity with the minority whenever its possible – both these concepts were almost never on the Zionist left’s agenda.

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    1. Carl

      I still think your article is wide of the mark. Though I don’t doubt Haaretz had an eye on the overall outcome of the elections, they make a sound – and passionate – argument from a viewpoint of supporting equal civil rights for all.

      In asking “What made the editors of Haaretz think that they understand the interests of Palestinians better than Palestinians themselves?”, you’re making an argument that no one but Palestinians should offer their opinion. I’d say that targeting civilians in the second intifada was vile and counter productive: but who am I to say I know better than the Palestinians? More to the point, who am I to tell you – an Israeli – what’s wrong with your opinion an Israeli issue? This line of thinking stems from abject relativism, and leaves no possibility of dialogue between parties.

      You say this “reflects many of the problems of the Israeli left”, but your article describes better the almost pathological navel-gazing of the Left internationally, leading us to aim our fire at allies before enemies.

      It’s a trait that goes at least some way to explain the Left’s demise over the last three decades.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Robert Soran

      One of the nuttiest positions and explanations on the +972 website in recent time. It shows an almost psychopathic distance between author and real world dynamics.

      Reply to Comment
    3. sh

      “If the editors of Haaretz were to say to the Palestinian citizens something along the lines of “we are in trouble, the left has zero chance for revival without you, we need you, come and vote” – it could have been okay.”
      Yes, being honest is more than ok, it’s best.

      “After all, the Palestinian readers of Haaretz read Hebrew (or English) and therefore do not need a translation into their “own” language.”
      It isn’t a question of needing, it’s a question of offering. The only other “offers” we see for such a thing are on domestic electrical appliances, medication and home front security brochures. So maybe it was a clumsy gesture? Like Bill Clinton’s shalom haver or Jack Kennedy’s ich bin ein Berliner?

      Honesty is always the best policy but tripping over one’s feet is not a crime. That, too, is honest and a Palestinian (rather than the monolithic “the Palestinians” we, here, are compressing individuals into) who likes +972 enough to correct it, might be kind enough to enlighten us on that score one day.

      Reply to Comment
    4. ronit

      thanks for being more clear. i agree that the more humble approach would have been much better – it would have made it sound like a plea rather than a command. i agree that we don’t need to be telling each other how to fight for our own group’s rights, but there is a huge middle between that attitude and the one that says we shouldn’t even make suggestions. what about working together on everything instead of staying in our own corner – whether waiting for a response or waiting for an invitation, it’s a waste of energy.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Amazona

      Absoltely spot on!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Tom Pessah

      well said. Especially the comparison to army orders.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Dafna Hirsch

      I had exactly the same thoughts when I saw this add. Had Haaretz published a text in Arabic every once in a while it would have seem like a gesture of recognition. But publishing in Arabic only when the Jews need the Arabs to save them from an extremist government – this seems more like a violation… In this sense I thought there was a similarity between this text and the Ben Ari & Eldad election propaganda, the subtext of both being “if we tell them in Arabic maybe they will finally understand”.

      Reply to Comment

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