Stop whining and get out of your bubble – those are the words that go through my head every time I hear another leftist trying to explain how important it is to foster partnership between Jews and Arabs, how essential it is to form a large democratic bloc and even to place Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh or MK Ahmad Tibi at its head. Like many Arabs and quite a few Jews, they dream of winning 20 Knesset seats, which would constitute a significant parliamentary force. Would salvation come from this?
Before the last election I wrote that salvation would not come from the Joint List. Many people raised an eyebrow. Some people within the electoral alliance of predominantly Arab parties itself viewed my remarks as an act of subversion. Friends vehemently claimed that if the Joint List won 15 Knesset seats, Benjamin Netanyahu would not stay on as prime minister.
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After the election Odeh and Tibi fought, even within their own community, to give Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz a parliamentary majority – even succeeding to convince the radical Balad party. All 15 Joint List lawmakers recommended that Gantz be asked to form a government, after negotiations on important issues. These included freezing the so-called Kaminitz law, which targets unauthorized construction in Arab communities, a plan to fight crime in Arab communities and aid for unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. All that evaporated when Gantz joined Netanyahu.
For the average Arab living in Israel, who made the effort and went out to vote time after time since 2015, the bottom line is gloomy: Netanyahu is prime minister, the so-called nation-state and Kaminitz laws still stand, in the Negev bulldozers continue their work, the annexation plan and Trump’s “deal of the century” are in the offing.
It’s true that the Joint List isn’t to blame for the toadying to the right of Gantz and his party colleagues. They did everything they could and were unsuccessful, because Israel’s Jewish majority is not ready for a change. For precisely that reason, increasing the Joint List’s representation in the Knesset, even by seven more seats by pulling in “homeless” Meretz and Labor voters, would not bring about the desired change. On the contrary, such a bloc would be an attractive target for unbridled incitement from the right, which would exploit this partnership to increase its own power.
A genuine and profound change in the situation requires a genuine and profound change in the public perception and conversation. The left has to understand that it must switch from defense to offense, which means the discussion ending the occupation must take center stage.
Opinion pieces in Haaretz aren’t enough. Until the issues of the occupation, racism and discrimination enter the mainstream media – and for them to get there they have to create ratings – Jewish-Arab parliamentary partnership won’t help. The Saturday night demonstrations must be mass events that are part of an organized program, not isolated events that are forgotten after two days. And they have to extend beyond the boundaries of Tel Aviv and reach every place in Israel.
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The next leader of the Zionist left must place microphones in everywhere in the country, including development towns and bastions of the right, and answer questions without embarrassment and without apologizing. He or she must declare that “left” is not an obscenity, that ending the occupation is in Israel’s interest, that he or she is willing, even eager, for their government to depend on Arab MKs and to abolish the nation-state law.
Only then will there be genuine ferment. Only then will the walls of the stalled discourse come down. Only then will Arabs and Jews go out to vote in greater numbers. Only when such messages spread everywhere, in Israel and in the Palestinian areas, in Europe and above all in the United States – will people understand that a real change is taking place here, not another nice, but not really important, attempt to form an electoral slate of Tel Avivans and Arabs.