“Right-wing rule is in danger,” Bibi Netanyahu thundered in a video appeal just before the Israeli elections. “Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” Some found this offensive. “No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark,” tweeted an opposition leader. “Imagine a warning that starts, ‘Our rule is in danger, black voters are streaming in quantity to the polling stations.’”
Imagine. In America? It’s so 1960s Alabama. Instead, we have tried much subtler ways to suppress turnout, such as gerrymandering, long waits at polling places and voter identification laws. Remember when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a series of conservative bills in early 2012? “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done,” boasted House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. "First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." (For the record, Obama carried Pennsylvania by 5 percentage points. Nationally, non-white voters, who overwhelmingly supported Obama, grew by 4.6 million in 2008 and another 3.6 million in 2012.)
It’s arguable, then, that voter-suppression efforts haven’t worked very well. But the problem is that they, often intentionally, polarize voters along racial and ethnic lines. Netanyahu has vowed never to accept a Palestinian state and to continue building settlements in Palestinian areas. In America we increasingly look at issues, from policing to education to welfare, through the lens of race.
If we talk only to ourselves, instead of to each other, how will we find a common language?