What the Israeli Arab Party's Election Gains Actually Mean

While Netanyahu distracted us with his best performance yet, an irreversible process has been set in motion

Maurice Ebileeni
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Joint List head Ayman Odeh, talks to reporters in Haifa, on March 3, 2020.
Joint List head Ayman Odeh, talks to reporters in Haifa, on March 3, 2020. Credit: AFP
Maurice Ebileeni

Following the publication of the exit polls on Election Day last week, what only a few days before had been crowned as Benjamin Netanyahu’s dirtiest campaign was suddenly hailed as his best performance ever. We got to watch, yet again, a victorious Netanyahu approaching the podium to address his die-hard followers and talk about turning lemons into lemonade. Little did we know that night that the number 15 would add a bitter aftertaste to the sweet lemonade. We were so overwhelmed by the King Bibi circus taking place on our television screens that we barely noticed the significance of the Arab vote in this elections. In hindsight, however, it is safe to state that something important happened on Election Day and that Netanyahu’s victory speech seems now as embarrassing as Benny Gantz’s on the night of the April elections.

What had started out as a political lifeboat in 2015 to survive the decision to raise the electoral threshold (originally initiated by Avigdor Lieberman) became a platform for a true partnership between Arabs who during the past 70 years have not had many opportunities to take part in a collective act as a people and for Jews who are willing to see a life after Zionism. Following his best performance ever, one thing is certain: soon, the prime minster of Israel will not be Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if he manages to put together another one of his miserable governments this time around (which is becoming increasingly unlikely), it is now crystal clear that Netanyahu – who was perhaps already deeply invested last Monday night in creating the narrative of having received the mandate of the people to counter his legal problems – is on his way out of Israeli politics. This is not to claim this will then bring about the much-needed sanity some of us desire – to the contrary. Dozens of more-or-less improved replicas are standing in line to take over where Netanyahu will be leaving off and they will likely try to lead us deeper into the abyss.

Some will continue to believe that they can erase the so-called “non-Zionist” vote from the political equation at the stroke of a pen and others will continue to choke on the name Heba Yazbak; and then there is of course Miki Zohar who on Wednesday evening tried to explain on Channel 12 that the Arab sector is actually rather “clever” but that Arabs still needed to get to their senses and not vote for the Joint List in the future. Bibi-ism will most likely persevere for many years to come and it will take decades to exorcise the ideology of Jewish supremacy altogether. Nonetheless, for now, I would like to believe that the Joint List has managed to create a flicker of light in the Israeli darkness and demonstrated that it is still possible to take advance toward the idea of a better reality where we might think together of how to make this place habitable for its 13 million inhabitants.

The “Jewish majority” will of course find it hard to swallow the bitter aftertaste of the lemonade Netanyahu ended up preparing, but allow me to confide in you: from personal experience I can safely say that you will get used to the taste. You see, while Netanyahu gave his best performance ever in this round and still found himself on his way out, many of us feel that the recent Joint List experience could be the beginning of something irreversible – something which has yet to be defined in the Israeli-Palestinian lexicon. 

Maurice Ebileeni is a lecturer in the English department at the University of Haifa.

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