The Israeli mayor of Upper Nazareth, Shimon Gapso, is an honest man. As part of his bid for re-election in the town which overlooks the ancient Palestinian city of Nazareth, he has launched a well-orchestrated political campaign. During the first stage, which began early in August, he furtively posted billboards that quoted left-wing politicians – including Haneen Zoabi from the political party Balad and Ahmed Tibi from the United Arab List – Ta'al – clamouring for his removal.
Zoabi was quoted as saying, "Upper Nazareth was built on Arab land. We will fight to the end against Shimon Gapso's racism. [Send] the racist home; Arabs to Upper Nazareth." The Tibi poster quoted the member of Knesset saying: "Shimon Gapso is racist scum and a neighbourhood bully who boorishly tramples the basic rights of Arab citizens to live wherever they want and to buy lands which, in any case, were theirs and were stolen from them by force!"
But because Gapso is an honest man, a few days after the self-initiated negative campaign had commenced, he admitted that he was actually behind it. He then hung his "real" campaign posters.
One reads, "Upper Nazareth will be Jewish forever; no more shutting our eyes… this is the time to defend our home".
Another poster reads: "I will not allow the city's Jewish character to be changed. I will block the establishment of an Arab school and will build neighbourhoods for Jewish residents …Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city!"
In a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, two Israeli organisations, Tag Meir and the Israel Religious Action Center, condemned Gapso's election campaign as "consisting wholly of racist incitement". Writing on behalf of both organisations, Israel Religious Action Centre attorney Einat Hurvitz wrote that the remarks by Gapso on his campaign posters "do not belong in an equal, pluralistic society, especially not when made by an elected official. These are utterly racist quotes, since all of Gapso's re-election campaign is based on a clear racist line – the prevention of equal resources from Upper Nazareth's Arab residents, and an effort to drive out the Arabs from the city."
Gapso, of course, did not remain silent. In an incredibly forthright op-ed, which appeared on the Israeli news site Ha'aretz, he complained that many people had been calling him a racist. "Sometimes they also call me a Nazi, a bully or even Hitler. One need only look at the comments on Ha'aretz's website, [where people want] to put me before a firing squad," he wrote; and then rhetorically asked the readers: "What's my crime? What act of bullying did I commit?"
He, of course, immediately responds: "I made a clear and unequivocal statement that Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city. Yes – I'm not afraid to say it out loud, to write it and add my signature, or declare it in front of the cameras: Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city and it's important that it remains so."
After this pithy statement, Gapso lays out his manifesto. "If that makes me a racist," he declares, "then I'm a proud offshoot of a glorious dynasty of 'racists' that started with the 'Covenant of the Pieces' [that God made with Abraham, recounted in Genesis 15:1–15] and the explicitly racist promise: 'To your seed I have given this land' [Genesis 15:38]."
He goes on to note that "When the Jewish people were about to return to their homeland after a long journey from slavery in Egypt, where they were enslaved for racist reasons, the God of Israel told Moses how to act upon conquering the land: he must cleanse the land of its current inhabitants."
Fast-forwarding 3,000 years, Gapso claims:
"The racist Theodor Herzl wrote 'Der Judenstaat' ('The Jewish State,' not 'The State of All Its Citizens'). Lord Balfour recommended the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people. David Ben-Gurion, Chaim Arlosoroff, Moshe Sharett and other racists established the Jewish Agency, and the racist UN decided to establish a Jewish state – in other words, a state for Jews. The racist Ben-Gurion announced the establishment of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel, and during the War of Independence even made sure to bring in hundreds of thousands of Jews and drive out hundreds of thousands of Arabs who had been living here – all to enable it to be founded with the desired racist character."
"Since then," the mayor concludes, "racially pure kibbutzim without a single Arab member and an army that protects a certain racial strain have been established, as have political parties that proudly bear racist names such as 'Habayit Hayehudi' – 'the Jewish home'. Even our racist national anthem ignores the existence of the Arab minority – in other words, the people Ben-Gurion did not manage to expel in the 1948 war. If not for all that 'racism', it's doubtful we could live here, and doubtful that we could live at all."
Gapso's clear-sighted analysis of the dominant Zionist narrative speaks volumes about Israel's state in the new millennium. With jingoist pride he reveals the logic of exclusion that defines the current Israeli political and social landscape. The novelty is not so much in what he says, but that he is has no shame in saying it. The only thing that he forgets to mention, however, is that racism is not "natural", something one is born with or should be proud of, but rather a trait one acquires by internalising the horrific lie that certain human beings are less than fully human.
Neve Gordon is the author of Israel's Occupation and can be reached through his website.