On Feb. 17, a short while after the Supreme Court heard arguments against disqualifying Knesset member Haneen Zoabi from running on the United Arab list, participants at the annual Israel Democracy Conference heard arguments from the television anchor Lucy Aharish in favor of Zoabi’s disqualification from the Knesset race. “Zoabi should demonstrate responsibility toward the Arab society and not incite with harsh words, which provoke Israeli society against its Arab neighbors,” said the successful Arab-Israeli journalist. “The minute you know what your words can do to an entire society, to 20% of this state, you will learn how to talk,” Aharish lashed out. “I am a proud Arab living in this state,” she continued, visibly agitated. “I do not apologize for being an Arab. I do not apologize for being a Muslim.” According to the platform of the party headed by Avigdor Liberman, the foreign minister of Aharish’s state, however, had she chosen to live in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm or in one of the villages of the Triangle in the north, even an apology would not have saved her from being separated from her country.
These days, giant posters plastered across Israel touting Yisrael Beitenu, Avigdor Liberman’s party, bear the slogan “Ariel for Israel, Umm al-Fahm for Palestine.” The campaign is designed to promote Liberman’s plan for land swaps. Two weeks ago, on Feb. 4, it was only through the intervention of the Central Election Committee that the party was prevented from handing out free copies of the satirical French magazine “Charlie Hebdo,” the special edition following the Paris massacre in January, mocking the Prophet Muhammad. The committee chairman, Justice Salim Joubran, wrote in his ruling, “The various parties would be better off focusing their efforts on bringing the Jewish and Arab societies closer to each other and not in stirring up and exploiting the tensions that exist between them.”
The anti-Muslim Arab election propaganda, as well as Zoabi’s comments, which led to the petition for banning her Knesset candidacy, clearly reflect the radicalization of the political debate typical of this election campaign. As the election draws nearer, the criticism grows more vile, and the delegitimization of rivals, regardless of race or nationality, becomes more virulent.