Opinion |

This Zionist Is Voting for the Arab Parties That Reject Zionism

Israel's left-wing Zionist politicians won't challenge the occupation this election: They don't want to scare away the voters. So I'm voting for a slate that does - despite the militant anti-Israel antagonism of one of its factions

Larry Derfner
Larry Derfner
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Joint List MKs Dov Khenin, left, and Ayman Odeh, center, in anti-violence and pro-coexistence demonstration in Tel Aviv, Oct. 9, 2015. The placards in read, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."
Joint List head, MK Ayman Odeh, center, at anti-violence protest in Tel Aviv, Oct. 9, 2015. The signs say, "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Larry Derfner
Larry Derfner

I've voted in 10 elections since moving to Israel in 1985. I've voted nine times for the left-wing Meretz party (or its forerunner Ratz). Once, in 1992, out of enthusiasm for Yitzhak Rabin, I went with Labor. But this September 17, I plan to change course, and vote for a virtually all-Arab slate: the Joint List.

Why? Two reasons.

One is that the Joint List is Israel's last party standing to raise a strong, steady voice against the one overriding evil in this country: the occupation, and the incessant slide from one war against the Palestinians in Gaza to the next, indefinitely.

Meretz, now that it’s joined with Ehud Barak and Stav Shaffir in the Democratic Union, has all but given up the fight against it.

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The Democratic Union is campaigning against Benjamin Netanyahu and his corruption, against the racist right, against religious coercion, against the assault on democracy, which are all of course big, important targets. But opposition to the occupation is sort of slipped in somewhere to check off that box, no more. What used to be the focus of Meretz’s energies has become an afterthought.

It's not a coincidence that the party's most determined opponents of the occupation – Mossi Raz and Gaby Lasky – were pushed down the Knesset list by both the primaries and the recent merger in favor of more "social" candidates looking above all to broaden the party’s support, notably new party leader Nitzan Horowitz and ex-Laborite Shaffir. They're focusing on domestic issues because that’s what the voters want to hear about.

The occupation – the military dictatorship over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and the withering blockade of two million Palestinians in Gaza – is what most liberal voters want to forget.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the launch of the Democratic Union list, which he formed with newly elected Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz and Stav Shaffir of Labor. Tel Aviv, July 25, 2019 Credit: AFP

In fact, Barak wanted to make the "restoration of deterrence in Gaza" – doing away with Netanyahu’s "restraint" – a campaign talking point. While Meretz overruled that idea, not a word is being heard from them against the next war with Hamas.

The other reason I’m voting for the Joint List, and the more important one, is because it’s the only Knesset slate in the so-called opposition that doesn’t pin its hopes on sitting in a government led by Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz, who should scare the hell out of everybody.

Last week Gantz did his Avigdor Lieberman impression by vowing to "pound Gaza" and kill its leaders unless they returned the Israeli civilians and remains of soldiers they’re holding and maintained "total quiet." (He made no mention, of course, of the God-knows-how-many Palestinian captives and corpses that Israel is holding.)

Gantz is Meretz’s choice for prime minister – a man who entered politics with campaign ads showing how, as IDF chief of staff during Operation Protective Edge, he made Gaza look like something that reminded me of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Between the warmongering of Gantz and his No. 2, Yair Lapid, the need to prove that they’re not "leftists," the pressure that would be on them from a right-wing opposition, and Netanyahu’s sole saving grace – his cautiousness, at least by Israeli standards, about going to war – mean the next major military conflagration will likely be closer at hand if Gantz forms the next government than if Netanyahu does.

I’m not going to lend my hand to that by voting Democratic Union.

Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz is embraced by a supporter during an electoral campaign tour, in the city of Rishon Letzion, south of the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 1, 2019Credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP

When that war starts, whether at the initiative of Netanyahu or Gantz, the Joint List is the only party guaranteed to be clamoring against it. Meanwhile, it is the only party that won’t look away from the occupation. In the fight against Israel’s rule over the Palestinians and its wars of aggression, the Joint List is now, tragically, the only game in town.

It’s not that I’m entirely comfortable voting for them. I’m a Zionist, in that I believe Israel’s only future can be with an enduring, solid Jewish majority, and the Joint List is decidedly not a Zionist entity.

And while I like the slate’s Hadash party and Ta’al party leader Ahmad Tibi, and have heard very conciliatory, pragmatic words from members of the Ra’am party, which represents the moderate wing of the Islamic Movement, I’ve got a real problem with the list’s most extreme anti-Zionist faction, Balad. Some of the actions and statements by some of Balad's leaders over the years have reflected an antagonism towards Israel which, to me, is militant and unwarranted.

But Balad isn’t going to get anywhere close to power, and Israel isn’t going to lose its solid Jewish majority, so the downside in voting Joint List is far less steep than the downside in voting for the new incarnation of a once aggressively anti-occupation Meretz.

"Leftist" Democratic Union has effectively come to terms with Israel’s worst sins, and if it rises to power behind Benny Gantz, it will almost certainly become a partner in committing more of them.

Larry Derfner is a copy editor at Haaretz and author of the memoir "No Country for Jewish Liberals" (Just World Books)

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