All Israelis Should Vote for the Arab List

A vote for this party could be a decisive event in Israel’s short history.

Joint List
Rami Shlush

In recent years, doubts about significantly changing politics via elections have increased. Ideologically, parties in populist democracies more and more resemble empty shells.

We all know that the gap between a party platform and the ability to implement it is so great that media advisers have justifiably replaced intellectuals. The parliamentary system has reached a dead end also because of the separation between the real power and politics. In other words, more and more significant decisions in the liberal Western world are being made by international financial institutions and large corporations, not by elected governments.

In Israel the situation is even more preposterous because its intransigent leaders don’t even try to use the tiniest bit of political logic to prepare for tomorrow. So we know that the current election campaign is completely superfluous, except maybe for its contribution to the satiric television program “Gav Ha’uma” (“Back of the Nation”). The diplomatic situation, which the socioeconomic situation completely depends on, is meant to be at the top of voters’ minds, but the chance the next government will change the diplomatic process is near zero.

If Zionist Union, which is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule, puts together a government, it’s doubtful it will advance the talks with the Palestinians even a little. I predict that none of its leaders, who are partners in the assumption that the Land of Israel is the ancient homeland of the eternal Jewish people, can uproot the settlers from Hebron, which with Arab Jerusalem represents the heart of this homeland.

Of course, Zionist Union’s leaders will not be the exception in the political tradition of the Israeli left. Even Yitzhak Rabin, who maybe could have done something after the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, didn’t dare touch the settlers of the city of the patriarchs. It’s also reasonable to assume they won’t dare divide Jerusalem or share sovereignty over it.

Even if there are such people, who under international pressure will agree to make progress toward a fair compromise with the “natives,” they won’t be able to handle the right’s fierce opposition. It would thus be preferable for a weakened right to win the election; the right would face heavy international pressure including the threat of sanctions and determined opposition from the center-left. Despite the general lack of desire, this could move the process toward a peace agreement.

So what could blossom from a vote in the March 17 election? The first big justification for voting is to save our dear Meretz party so it won’t fall under the electoral threshold and disappear from the political landscape. The problem is that this party’s weak leaders have done everything possible to make themselves irrelevant.

We have to admit they don’t arouse much confidence. It’s pretty clear that most of them haven’t yet decided if they support the establishment of a Palestinian state because they can’t abide their country’s occupation of another people or because they fear for their future as the darling of some of this country's Jews.

For everyone who opposes the occupation and supports civic equality, the question is whether there's a reason to vote for the Joint List of Arab parties. Are Israelis — and does it matter if they’re of Jewish, Muslim or Christian origin? — who are not communists, do not believe in Allah and are not Palestinians with nationalist positions supposed to vote for this party?

Of course, politically there is no reason to exaggerate the benefit that will accrue from supporting the Joint List, even if it’s clear its leaders will support every serious step toward diplomatic negotiations. I’m also sure that after the election its leaders will disappoint its voters, as every normal party has done.

But symbolically, a vote for this party could be a decisive event in Israel’s short history. It will be a protest vote that could make the Joint List the third largest power in the Knesset and remind everyone that for Israel’s future and security it cannot keep viewing itself as the nation of all Jews around the world, including all the Sheldons. If Israel seeks a long-term existence, it must be a democracy of all its citizens, including the 25 percent who according to the Interior Ministry are not defined as members of the Chosen People.

Moreover, those for whom the concrete Jewish memory, not the mythological one, is dear to their hearts, must vote for the Arab Israeli minority. Anyone who remembers that in the distant and recent past Jews lived as humiliated subjects, second-class citizens and suspect neighbors must identify with whomever is persecuted today by voting for the Joint List of Arab parties.

Are we, the Israelis who are descendents of the Jews, destined to be so similar to those who persecuted our parents and our parents’ parents, or maybe we’ll decide — as people with the power to vote — to be different? Will we understand that cultural, linguistic, gender or other differences don’t have to be a basis for inequality and discrimination? Will the day come when we recognize that differences can actually be a source for cross-fertilization, creativity and strength?

Shlomo Sand is a professor emeritus of history at Tel Aviv University.