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As Many Arab MKs as Possible? Why?

Abed L. Azab
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Members of the Joint List, March 2019.
Members of the Joint List, March 2019.Credit: Oren Ben Hakun
Abed L. Azab

An Arab proverb says: “A tribe without young people will lose its property, a tribe without its old people will scatter like sand in the wind.”

I recalled this while reading the article by Rogel Alpher calling for as many Arabs as possible to enter the Knesset in the coming election (Haaretz, December 15). In his enthusiasm to see as many of his cousins (us) as possible in the Knesset, Alpher hopes for the demise of Meretz – Democratic Union in its new iteration – and the Labor Party, with or without Orly Levi-Abekasis.

He has logical reasons: The two parties that he hopes will die out are an impossible patchwork called the Zionist left. The internal contradiction shouts to the high heavens. Zionism and the left can’t live together.

Alpher’s enthusiasm and viewpoint, which looks beyond the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should supposedly make me, as an Arab, happy. He is absolutely right when he says the racism of Kahol Lavan chairman MK Benny Gantz and his camp toward the Arabs is essentially no different than that Union of Right-Wing Parties’ MK Bezalel Smotrich and his cohort. But dreams are one thing; utopia is something else. Let’s get back to the facts.

One important fact is that with all due respect to Finland – an educational ideal for many in the world, which has now also become a model in terms of government – the people of Israel (Jews and Arabs alike) have not exactly been blessed with the Finnish mentality of progress and tolerance.

Compared to the Finns our mental development is closer to simians than to homo sapiens.

Twenty-five or 30 Arab MKs is a pleasant thought. Behold how good and how pleasant it is to see us represented in the legislature in keeping with our percentage in the population. Clearly this would be a nightmare for the majority of Jews; but would that be the only problem. The bigger problem is that in the eyes of quite a few Arabs this is a nightmare.

Everyone who boycotts the election, the Islamists and the rest who want to perpetuate the conflict and the hatred will do everything they can to reduce the number of Arabs in the Knesset.

There’s another fact, even more painful: When push comes to shove, I don’t trust MK Ayman Odeh and his colleagues to act reasonably and for the good of their voters rather than for the good of some Palestinian leader who lives comfortably in one of the Gulf states. I’m not sure that they would prefer working toward the equality of the Arab citizens of Israel over working toward fiery interviews in the media in the Arab world and for martyr festivals.

I’m not sure that the advancement of the Arabs in the workplace, housing and quality of life is more important to them than strikes in solidarity with Hamas. I’m not convinced that the war on crime in Arab communities is more important to them than the Nakba, in which they invest the paltry budgets of Israeli Arab civil society institutions.

I’m not certain that on the day when painful decisions and compromises in terms of values must be made, the Joint List will remain unified and we won’t go back to the situation where every party tries to show that the other is the worst on earth. I have absolutely no confidence in the Islamic Movement’s representatives in the Joint List not to vote to strip the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who stay home on Election Day.

The third fact is that Labor chairman MK Amir Peretz is a true workers’ leader. That’s what I believe despite my abhorrence for certain elements of Labor-Gesher, such as MK Orly Levi-Abekasis, who for me will always be associated with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman.

Peretz has made almost every mistake possible, but he is from the right background and has good instincts. And he is a social activist through and through.

The Democratic Union likewise should not be ruled out. I used to think that this party had become a branch of Yisrael Beiteinu. But under the leadership of MK Nitzan Horowitz, reinforced by MK Stav Shaffir, it has no substitute in the Israeli left. Neither should Alpher discount the work this party has done in defending the rights of the Arab minority in Israel and in curbing the settlers. Anyone can see who is active in human rights groups in Israel and for Palestinian rights in the territories.

In short, what the Jewish activists of Peace Now, Machsom Watch and Breaking the Silence do, Ayman Odeh and his colleagues cannot and do not want to do.

And if we’re talking about ideology and principles, why not a joint Arab-Jewish Knesset roster, or the other way around, one with a true partnership and suitable representation of the components of the left? The only party that has traces of Arab-Jewish partnership is Hadash. And unfortunately, the presence there of Ofir Cassif is mere window dressing, and with Hadash a part of the Joint List, many Arab voters consider this window dressing awkward and needless.

And so, under the current circumstances, the Democratic Union and the Labor Party should be preserved. In my opinion, they should oust Gesher and unify. When our mentality improves and becomes more humane, the most natural thing will be a true left-wing party, without reference to race, religion or gender. After all, that is the essence of the left wing, any left wing. So why as many Arab MKs as possible?

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