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.