Opinion

A Plan for Arab and Jewish Leftists to Save Israel

The country is yearning for change, which means two left-wing parties – Meretz and Hadash – must leave their comfort zones and work together to save Israel from the occupation and becoming an apartheid state

120,000 marching to 'social justice' protest in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2011 (Tal Cohen)
Tal Cohen

A somber spirit is haunting the Israeli left. Many ask, “Where did we go wrong?” For some, doubt is creeping in: maybe they are right? We saw a yearning at the recent memorial ceremony marking the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – let us unite. But what exactly do they want to unite for?

While the vast majority of Israeli citizens understand the occupation is leading us to destruction yet prefer to look away, and while the gaps in Israeli society are ever widening – the rich are getting richer, the poor get poorer – we on the left mostly debate the question of who’s to blame and not what we should be doing. We don’t ask how we can break the cycle of “There’s nothing to do,” because it’s a daunting and paralyzing question. Instead, it is easier to ask who is guilty.

But “Who is guilty?” is a question about the past. We suggest working toward the future by taking one small, yet transformative, step.

What can we do when it seems there’s nothing to be done? First, act based on what’s in our power to change. We suggest establishing a Jewish-Arab political slate that will run jointly for the Knesset and serve as the basis for the establishment of an Arab-Jewish party.

This should be a mission that left-wing parties Meretz and Hadash must lead jointly, initially with their hundreds of thousands of voters and later with the growing circles of the desperate.

Both parties are divided over the historical question: who’s to blame? They have different answers based on Zionist and non-Zionist degrees. They also have different positions in the heated discourse about Britain’s deeds 100 years ago – mainly regarding the question of whether Israel (and most of the Arab countries around it) was born in the sin of British imperialism. Only a person with a zealot’s fire burning inside of him would make a past sinner flagellating himself a condition for working together politically. The present convergence into ghettos of narratives as a substitute for political action is a disaster. Identities are hugely important, but identity politics is a dubious issue that isn’t concerned about the future, but rather, a poisonous settling of accounts with the past.

We propose exchanging the narratives into plans of action and political organization. The purpose of organizing is to obtain political power through democratic means for fundamental change in two areas.

First, changing the current situation of the occupation, and its present and future fatal metastasis. Let us stress: Stopping the occupation is the most important thing. It was Hadash, in one of its previous incarnations, that had the slogan “Israel Palestine – two states for two peoples,” which Meretz adopted many years ago. This will be the guiding principle of the joint slate, which means, among other things, opposition to “one state” – which has a high chance of becoming an apartheid state, or launching a bloody civil war, similar to the one in Lebanon.

Second, the slate’s platform will be a social-democratic one. It will be based mainly on demands that were supported by the public during the social justice protests of 2011. In other words, caring for every Israeli citizen and fighting against any discrimination based on nationalism, ethnicity, religion, gender and geography, while being for full civil equality – legislative, political, social and economic. Everyone will enjoy a social safety net in the fields of housing, health, education and welfare.

We do not ignore the fact that establishing a Jewish-Arab slate is a difficult task for the two parties we are appealing to. Each has a hard time going beyond its comfort zone. However, consolidating Jewish-Arab forces in Israel justifies the taking of electoral risks. Moreover, the present comfort zones are liable to turn out to be illusory if either of the parties disappears from the Knesset in the next election after failing to reach the electoral threshold.

It is true that Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay recently joined Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in his dismissive attitude toward Arab citizens of Israel – thus ceding electoral space to Meretz. And true, today Hadash looks like its place is secure with the Arab public. Still, it is possible that both parties are at a dead-end, both in terms of their way forward and political power. Therefore, party wisdom, and not only moral responsibility, dictates joining forces. The two parties have a large pool of at least 350,000 voters (based on the number of Meretz voters and Hadash’s share of the Joint List in the 2015 election). These people can be seen as a powerful potential for change.

A Jewish-Arab slate could lead to a historic turnaround in the long run. This prospect obliges the leaders of both parties and their supporters to seriously consider the question of what they can do – together.

Prof. Itzhak Galnoor is the former head of the Civil Service Commission and Prof. Avishai Margalit is an Israel Prize laureate in philosophy