Attorney Dov Khenin, from attorney Amnon Zichroni's law firm, was the proxy of MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al) at the Central Elections Committee that disqualified Tibi from running for the 16th Knesset, and in the Supreme Court, which did not approve the committee's decision, and thus allowed Tibi to run for the Knesset. Khenin is also Number 4 on the Hadash-Ta'al Knesset list, the Jew who will replace Tamar Gozansky if Hadash-Ta'al receives four Knesset seats. At present, surveys show the party receiving between three and four seats.
The Supreme Court decision, which also overturned the disqualification of MK Azmi Bishara and his Balad list, is a double victory in his eyes. He says that on the legal level, the Supreme Court adopted the ideological stance that he argued before it, "that we have to defend the borders of the democratic field and allow unacceptable ideas to compete as well." How will the decisions of the Supreme Court affect the voting among the Arabs and Khenin's chances of getting into the Knesset? As a result of the court's rejection of the disqualifications, he believes, 70 percent will turn out to vote, "and maybe even more."
The Supreme Court overturned the banning of Tibi unanimously, and the banning of Bishara by a majority of seven to four. Khenin says that there are definitely differences between their statements, but in principle there was no reason to disqualify either of them. He feels that the court decided to approve the candidacy of Baruch Marzel (Herut) because it was placed "in a very difficult situation. It had to reject the disqualifications of Bishara and Tibi. In this situation, it was hard for the court to rule, on the other hand, that Marzel would be the one disqualified, in spite of the fact that the Central Elections Committee had decided that he was not disqualified. The court tried to hand down a ruling that the public could understand."
Khenin believes that even after the Supreme Court decision, "the threat to democracy ... as reflected in the discussions of the Central Elections Committee, which in previous years was also a party-based body, but never was as great a circus as it was this time ... has not disappeared." The banning of the Arab politicians was "a kind of field trial," he says, but the big story is not the behavior of the "40 professional politicians" who comprise the committee, but of the major political forces that stood behind them and decided to waive the rules of the democratic game.
"That is also reflected in their behavior toward the judge himself [Mishael Cheshin], and even toward the procedural rules of the game." His conclusion is that the Supreme Court alone will not be able to protect democracy, and that there is an urgent need for a broad Jewish-Arab movement to protect it, a movement that will include groups on the left and the liberal forces in Israeli society.
He really stands out
Khenin, 44, married and the father of three sons, has a doctorate in political science and is involved in environmental activity. His communism began at home. Former Hadash spokesman Dror Nissan says that Khenin's late father, David (Sasha) Khenin, was one of the leaders of Maki [the Israel Communist Party] when it was still an illegal party, and his mother, Shulamit, ran joint Jewish-Arab kindergartens in South Tel Aviv. In the internal elections in the Hadash council, he defeated the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, Shawki Hatib, 64 percent to 29 percent, maybe thanks to the "Jewish quota," which does not officially exist. But his main problem is the need to compete with the large shadow cast by his predecessor in that same quota, Tamar Gozansky.
Khenin believes that Gozansky made a mistake when she decided not to run in the coming Knesset elections. "I was among those who tried to convince her to decide differently," he says. It's true that there was a problem with the party constitution, which prevents running for a fourth term in the Knesset, but he found an interpretation according to which the constitution allows a person to run for the Knesset without limitation, as long as two thirds of the members of the Hadash council give their approval.
Had it not been for Ta'al (MK Tibi, third place on the list) joining Hadash, Khenin would have been in the safe third place on the list. Khenin and Gozansky opposed bringing Tibi in, claiming that he is not a leftist in his social positions. They expressed a fear that together with the head of the list, Mohammed Barakeh, Tibi will bring the Palestinian issue back to the top of the party agenda, at the expense of social action. Khenin says that he will accept the majority decision, but "that doesn't mean that I've changed my mind."
In his estimate, the fourth place on the list, and even the fifth, are realistic. "In the previous elections," he says, "Hadash was 2,000 votes short of four Knesset seats, and this time we're running on a list together with Tibi, who also has certain public support. My opinion, from meetings with people among the Jewish and Arab public, is that Hadash has become stronger since the last elections."
Khenin calls Gozansky "the best parliamentarian ever." How will he fill her shoes?
"She has huge shoes," he replies. "I have my own shoes, which I'm bringing to the Knesset. I'll try to do my best to continue her activity in the area of social legislation. At the same time, I will promote things which greatly concern me, in the field of civil rights and environmental issues." He plans to work using the same system as Gozansky: cooperation with MKs with different political opinions, to promote specific issues.
Dror Nissan says that "Dubi is an excellent person," and in terms of his potential parliamentary abilities "he is every bit as capable as Tamar [Gozansky]. He's just much more of a human being than she is. He's a pleasant person, he likes people and knows how to talk to groups. He's a genius." Nissan says that he is objective. He is no longer the Hadash spokesman, he says, "and I don't have to sell him. I think that I was also very credible regarding Tamar."
Gozansky, says Nissan, represents "real hardline [Communist] orthodoxy," whereas Khenin "is a very open person, and in "crisis situations he has always taken very progressive stands. For example, during the failed revolution against Gorbachev in August 1991, when Genady Yeniev's tanks surrounded the Russian parliament, he refused to side with the party (and Gozansky), which justified the revolution and supported Yeniev, and asked `why overthrow Gorbachev. He's a talented and honest guy.' In the human gallery of Jews in Maki he really stands out."
The war on globalization
As a lawyer, Khenin specialized in constitutional and administrative law, and often appeared before the Supreme Court, for example in the petition of Yitzhak Laor against the Film and Play Censorship Board, which led to the cancellation of censorship of plays (but not of films). He hopes that a petition will be submitted to the Supreme Court against the rejection of the film "Jenin, Jenin," by Mohammed Bakri, "and that the other plague [the Film Censorship Board - D.S.] will disappear from the world." He believes that "this will not be a good Knesset. But even in a bad Knesset it will be possible to try to promote whatever can be promoted." He will want to be a member of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and of the Interior and Environment Committee.
In the field of environmental issues, Khenin heads the Israeli delegation of the international institute Worldwatch, whose center is in the United States. The institute was established during the 1970s, and is involved in studying trends in the development of the environment and society all over the world - global warming, for example. It would seem surprising that a member of Hadash is focusing on these issues, which seem far removed from politics. Khenin thinks this is an optical illusion.
"Environmental issues are political," says Khenin. "To think that you can deal with the environment without dealing with politics is naive, because in order to protect the environment you have to deal with vested interests, sometimes with very strong vested interests." Such as, for example, the interests of Israel Chemicals, where dangerous security problems have been discovered.
Khenin did his post-doctorate at Oxford, on the subject "The movement against corporate globalization." It turns out that concerns over the environment and globalization have a place of honor in the platform of the Israeli Communist Party - the main component of Hadash - of which Khenin is one of the leaders. The Maki platform sees in globalization what Marx and Engels saw in capitalism. Globalization, says the report of the central committee to the 24th Maki conference, is forming a polarized social system and is causing large parts of society - the unemployed, the poor - to become superfluous. "Capitalist globalization is a cruel form of class warfare being waged by capital, which is causing unprecedented polarization within countries, and between rich and poor countries."
Perhaps because of the need to form alliances for social and environmental struggles, Khenin talks of the need for "a new left, which will be broader and more open," and which will have a place for socialists, social-democrats, communists or anarchists, as well as for protest organizations and groups, as long as they agree on a political-social common denominator of "two states for two nations, two capitals in Jerusalem, a social change that benefits most of society and harms the rich, development for the good of the environment and of people, and not for the benefit of those who want to earn a lot of money quickly."
Democracy is in crisis, he says, because of capital-government alliances and because of Israel's domination of another nation. In order to break the capital-government connection, a social change is needed, says Khenin, but he doesn't talk about revolution.
Khenin is aware that Hadash is seen by the public and in surveys as an Arab rather than a mixed Jewish-Arab party, as it presents itself. He even tells an anecdote about Tamar Gozansky, who brought blankets and other equipment to people who were conducting a strike in front of the Knesset, and they said to her in thanks, "Yes, only Arabs have a heart."
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