'Bibi has Tibi-phobia, and it's spreading like coronavirus'
AHMAD TIBI: When he [Netanyahu] says ‘Ahmad Tibi,’ he means Ahmad the Arab.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Political Affairs: Joint List faction chairman Ahmad Tibi lays out demands to enable a Benny Gantz-led government: No Trump plan, no attacking in Gaza
If an alien had arrived in Israel and learned about Israeli politics only from attending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud rallies over the past two months, he might have thought that Netanyahu would be facing off in Monday’s election against Ahmad Tibi.The posters at Likud events feature Netanyahu’s actual opponent, Benny Gantz, meeting with Joint List leader Ayman Odeh and Tibi, who heads the Joint List’s faction in the Knesset and is its best spokesman.Netanyahu has escalated his attacks against Gantz as the election approaches. But for most of the campaign, he has mentioned Tibi at his rallies a lot more than the leader of Blue and White. Tibi’s name has become such a mantra at Likud rallies that, lately, Netanyahu even lets the crowd say it for him.The posters, which are also on billboards, bridges and buildings across the country, feature the main slogan the Likud chose to reiterate this campaign: “Gantz can’t form a government without Tibi.” During rallies, Netanyahu carries a whiteboard and a Sharpie and draws a chart in which he explains why Blue and White must rely on the Joint List in order to form a coalition.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post at his office in the Knesset, Tibi admits that he has had someone count for him how many times Netanyahu mentions him in his speeches, and in some cases, it is 16 or 17 times.But Tibi, who is known for his sense of humor, does not think Netanyahu’s strategy is funny. Rather than enjoy his new celebrity status, he finds it deeply disturbing.Tibi deems this rhetoric as not just political calculation but actually racism in disguise.“When he [Netanyahu] says ‘Ahmad Tibi,’ he means Ahmad the Arab,” Tibi says. “He means the entire Arab public. This is how he incites his right-wing base. He is scaring them by telling them that Ahmad is taking over the government and will be deciding who will be the prime minister – Arabs are taking over the country.”Tibi says Netanyahu uses false messages to delegitimize him and the entire Joint List, for which 90% of Arab voters cast ballots. He connects it to Netanyahu’s rhetoric in past elections that portrayed the Arabs as a threat to the country. “This is a direct continuation of ‘the Arabs are going in droves to the polling stations’ in the 2015 race, and of ‘the Arabs want to kill our women and children,’ which the Likud chatbot said in a Facebook post [ahead of the September election] and then retracted,” Tibi says.Ahead of that September race, the Likud’s message was that “Arabs are trying to steal the election,” which led to an effort to pass a law enabling ordinary citizens to use cameras at polling stations. But none of those slogans was the first time Netanyahu rallied his masses against Tibi.When Netanyahu first ran for prime minister, in 1996, he used the slogan “It’s either Bibi or Tibi.” Twenty-four years later, he still uses that slogan. Tibi says that after all he has given Netanyahu, the least the prime minister could do is accept Tibi’s challenge to hold a televised debate with him. “If all of your speeches are on Ahmad Tibi, so come and compete with me in a televised debate,” he says. “I am saying here to The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu can set the time and place, and I am coming.”If it was only the Likud, perhaps Tibi would be less upset. But Blue and White has spoken increasingly tough about possible cooperation with the Joint List after the election, in response to Netanyahu’s ongoing criticism.“Blue and White has been defending itself from attacks from Bibi, who has ‘Tibi-phobia,’ which could be spreading like the coronavirus,” Tibi says.TIBI RULES OUT the Joint List joining a government, because an Arab minister would have collective responsibility for decisions of the government to attack in Gaza, fund settlements or not recognize a village. The minister would vote against in the cabinet but would then have to vote in favor in the Knesset.What the Joint List can do is give Gantz a “preventative bloc” that could permit Gantz to form a minority government. There would not be 61 MKs in the coalition, but the Joint List would prevent it from falling.Israel had a minority government for three years after Shas quit then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government in 1993 to protest the Oslo Accords, and again in 2000 for several months under then-prime minister Ehud Barak.But even for that, the Joint List has a price – and it is high: NIS 64 billion over 10 years or NIS 32b. over five to develop the Arab sector. Tibi’s demands include the building of a university and a hospital in an Arab city and the building of an Arab city in Israel, as the Palestinians built in Rawabi.House demolitions would have to stop, the Nation-State Law would have to be repealed, a new Basic Law on equality would have to be passed, and real action would have to be taken against violence in the Arab sector.Those are Tibi’s least controversial demands and the ones Gantz might be able to accept. The tougher ones are on diplomatic and security issues – and they are a nonstarter for any possible government in Israel.US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan could not be advanced at all in any way – not just the controversial clause that would make Arabs who live in the Triangle area of the Galilee part of a Palestinian state. None of the plan.“We categorically oppose Trump’s plan, which would deepen apartheid and create Palestinian Bantustans. It would give us no real borders, no sovereignty and no real independence. We take our citizenship seriously.”Netanyahu has warned throughout his campaign that Tibi would tie Gantz’s hands on security issues. Tibi confirms everything Netanyahu has said, and more.“We will not support attacks in Gaza,” he says. “We will do our utmost as the Joint List to block any war, and advance the peace process. There will be no bulldozers on bodies, no airstrikes on Palestinians. Peace, not war. I have a limit of what I can swallow.”Since an initial report of what Tibi said, ruling out attacks in Gaza, was published by Jpost.com on Tuesday, the Likud has quoted the report in its online ads that run during prime-time news broadcasts on the websites of Channels 12 and 13.Tibi says attacks in Syria would also be unacceptable to the Joint List and a reason to topple a Gantz-led government. He is just as critical of Gantz as he is of Netanyahu, and makes clear that the Joint List recommending him to form a government, as it did in September, cannot be taken for granted.“Lately, Blue and White has been bypassing the Likud on the Right, supporting annexation, discriminating against us in Knesset and talking about forming a government with a Jewish majority,” Tibi laments. “Whoever builds on getting a Jewish majority could find himself with only Jewish recommendations before the president. It’s a racist expression, and if it was said against Jews in the US or Muslims in France, whoever said it would have been thrown out of his job immediately.”Tibi notes that while there was a wave of criticism against Blue and White MK Yoaz Hendel for speaking about Sephardi Jews who brought to Israel a culture of Darbuka drums, no one criticized Hendel for comparing Arab culture to a jungle in the same controversial Haaretz interview.Tibi is the chairman of the Ta’al Party – one of the four parties composing the Joint List, along with Hadash, the atheist, communist-affiliated party; Ra’am, the party affiliated with the Islamic Movement; and Balad, the hawkish component of the list. Ta’al is considered to be the pragmatic faction out the four, the party that is willing to work hand in hand with Israelis while maintaining its Arab character.However, just like the other parties in the list, Ta’al never took part in the government.Recent surveys show that the Arab society in Israel wants to be integrated into the general public.An Israel Democracy Institute survey from 2019 found that 87% of Arab-Israeli respondents felt part of Israeli society, and 54% said that they strongly felt part of it.There is a general feeling among Arab-Israelis that their representatives should take part in the government. Tibi acknowledges this notion but states that he doesn’t see himself joining the coalition in the near future.“There are polls that show that Arab-Israelis want Arab ministers,” Tibi says. “I’ll surprise you even more, and I’ll tell you that there are around 20%-25% [of the Arab public that] want to see us [the Joint List] in a Likud-led coalition. But I can’t accept it.”Tibi explains that as long as there is a conflict, and as long as the IDF operates in Gaza and the West Bank, he cannot see himself taking part in such a government.“Being a part of a government is being accountable for its actions,” he says. “My conscience won’t let me do that.”He adds that transferring money for settlement and approving illegal home demolitions in Arab villages are other sticking points that morally prevent him from joining a government.“Maybe in the future it will happen,” he says, “but not as long as the conflict goes on. The terms of the current national conflict are not allowing such a situation. If we’ll see groundbreaking progress, it will happen. But it probably won’t happen in my days.”A former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Tibi says he is disappointed that the Palestinian Authority has not been able to get its act together and initiate an election for president since January 2005.“Rifts among Palestinians is a plague that makes me very sad,” he says. “There has been regression for Palestinian nationalism after so many efforts at reconciliation. The only way is to bring about democratic elections. The current situation of rifts and no elections is not democratic.”Asked if he himself could be a solution to the Palestinian leadership problems, Tibi politely declines.“Me? No thank you,” he says. “I respect my Palestinian people. But I represent Arab citizens of Israel, and I am a candidate for the 23rd Knesset.”He says his political career would end only when he loses his drive.“Right now, my drive is in full force, and political rivals see it,” he says. “A politician whose rivals see him as a nightmare should feel good.”