The smell of shampoo wafted through the bathroom. Steam covered the mirror and blurred the image of the person standing in front of it. The guy who had just gotten out of the shower hadn’t even dried himself off before reaching for his phone. Before getting into the shower he had angrily debated right-winger Bezalel Smotrich about whether Israel should draft ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army.
“Bezalel, damn it, look at the facts,” he had tweeted before getting into the shower. It’s no coincidence they wrote in the newspaper that Yair Lapid, the No. 2 in Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, is the only person in the party with a killer instinct.
The shower didn’t take his mind off the argument. “And another thing, Smotrich. Israel has to be a state of all its citizens.”
Boom. Smotrich quickly replied: “Thank you, Yair, for finally putting it out there.” And Abba Eban’s protégé, new Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, hastened to join in: “A seriously outrageous anti-Semitic remark … the slogan of the enemy.” Help.
Now the candidate for prime minister had to dry himself off and do some damage control. “Somebody really misunderstood what he was reading,” Lapid tweeted. “I’ve been totally against a state of all its citizens all my life. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, and that’s how it will remain. What I wrote referred to LGBT rights.”
What he followed up with was characteristic Lapid: “The following are two facts about a state of all its citizens: 1. I’m against it. 2. I’m not going to tweet from the shower anymore before drying off.” So now the reader understands the message correctly: Israel has to be, yet doesn’t have to be, a state of all its citizens.
Drying off or not, this is something that actually took place on Twitter the other day, and it might have been funny. But it’s not. Once the steam lifted the picture was clear: racism in all its ugliness. Lapid meant Jewish members of the LGBT community, to whom the state also belongs. But it’s not a state of all its citizens. That’s what happens when you live a lie: You get confused in the shower.
If Israel is a democracy, it’s a state of all its citizens. There is no democracy that isn’t a state of all its citizens. From America to Germany, all are states of all their citizens. If they weren’t, to whom would they belong? Only to their privileged citizens. There’s no such thing as a democracy that belongs only to the privileged of one nationality.
The state belongs to everyone. A regime that segregates and discriminates is called apartheid. There is no other name. The fact that Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel amid suspicions he supplied information to Hezbollah, was the first to draw attention to this obvious truth doesn’t detract from it one iota. A state of all its citizens isn’t “the slogan of the enemy,” as the new foreign minister put it. It’s the heart and soul of democracy.
But the center-left feels exactly the same as the right and doesn’t recognize this simple truth. From their standpoint Israel is a democracy for its Jews and a guesthouse for its Arabs. Let’s thank Lapid’s towel for returning things to their proper place. One moment he was in favor of a state of all its citizens and the next he was against. He has been against it all his life, like almost all Israeli democrats.
How can a democrat be against a state of all its citizens? Only in Israel. In no other democracy is there room for such a question. The state belongs to everyone. Equally.
The right’s annexation plan will soon raise questions about the citizenship of millions of Palestinians. But in present-day Israel, right, left and center are talking apartheid – under the cover of the slogan a Jewish state. That’s the real slogan of the enemy, the enemy of democracy. This combination doesn’t work. It’s an oxymoron. Either Israel is a state of all its citizens and it’s a democracy, or it’s a Jewish state and it’s apartheid.
It’s good that the steam from Lapid’s shower lifted quickly and he could return to the truth he shares with Smotrich. Zionism’s eternal truth. It’s an undemocratic truth. Smotrich at least admits to it, Lapid tries to hide behind a towel.