Battling Tribalism in Israeli Politics

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab Joint List parties, poses for a photo in party offices in Nazareth, Israel, on August 29, 2019.
Mahmoud Illean,AP

The stone that Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh threw into the shallow mud of this election campaign merely exposed the painful reality of Israeli politics, with all its divisions and factions. After all, what did Odeh say?

That under certain conditions, the Arab parties’ combined slate would be willing to join a governing coalition that stood as an alternative to right-wing rule. This small stone managed to stir up all the stench that has spread through the airwaves.

The leaders of the Kahol Lavan party, who aspire to replace the government, quickly raised an outcry and ruled out any possibility of cooperating with the Joint List a priori. Odeh’s political home, both his own Hadash party and the other parties on the ticket, was similarly unhappy with the chairman’s announcement and quickly issued a statement rejecting it.

And thus, time after time, the bitter truth is revealed. Strange as it seems, this country is being run without a single Israeli party. All the parties running for election are about the purity of the Jewish and Arab tribes, both religious and ethnic. 

>> Read more: Israeli Arab leader's rare overture could lead to harmful consequences | Analysis

When the leaders of Kahol Lavan rejected the Joint List chairman’s outstretched hand and declared that their natural coalition is with Likud and Avigdor Lieberman, they revealed the truth that guides Israeli politics: All of Israel’s string-pullers are nursed on milk enriched with Jewish tribalism, and nothing more.

Odeh’s announcement merely exposed the true faces – which, it must be said, are ugly ones – of the people who seek to replace the current government.

His announcement also exposed the ridiculous face of the Arab politicians. On one hand, they fight to get elected to the Knesset, the ultimate Zionist symbol, from whose podium they will swear allegiance to the State of Israel. But on the other hand, they refuse to be partners in an alternative coalition, or any other framework that would make it possible to run the country for the benefit of all its citizens.

This approach makes no sense. Arab citizens and their representatives have not only a right, but a duty to take part in running the country, for their own benefit and the benefit of all its citizens.

They must be partners in making decisions in every walk of life, first and foremost the effort to end the occupation and forge a sustainable peace on the basis of two states for two peoples, the Israeli one and the Palestinian one.

It must be said unequivocally that any party that doesn’t aspire to replace the government, or at least to be part of a coalition that would be an alternative to the current government, has no political right to exist. Every poll that has studied the mood among Israel’s Arab citizens has found that most respondents want to be partners in running the state’s affairs and making its decisions.

On the flip side, if the Jewish parties rule out cooperation with Arab Knesset members, the existence of this inbuilt parliamentary apartheid in “the Jewish state” must be revealed to the entire world.

As things look now, it doesn’t seem likely that the upcoming election will bring about any substantive changes in Israeli politics. Nevertheless, we must not despair. Now is the time to start thinking about the future, about the only Israeli alternative that is worthy of being offered to fair-minded citizens. 

Admittedly, there has as yet been no attempt to offer an alternative path. Nevertheless, our hope is not yet lost – the hope of being a normal country, in which all citizens are equal.

How ironic: Kahol Lavan and Joint List are united against Odeh’s idea of Arab parties serving in an alternative government.