Opinion

Israel's Arab Parties Join Forces, but Their Union Lacks a Message

Odeh and Tibi give a press conference, July 27, 2019.
Rami Shllush

The public opinion polls are unflattering. In the heat of August, a freeze is the party’s most salient feature and the latest diagnosis points to a serious scarcity of vision in the Joint List.

Without vision, the battle is lost. The apple, according to Amos Oz in his last book, is made of water, earth, sunlight, an apple tree and a bit of manure. However, while it is made out of these ingredients, it doesn’t resemble them. That appears to sum up the story of the Joint List in one bite. The partnership includes all the ingredients, but its spirit is floating elsewhere.

In 2015, the Joint List saw the light of day with a message declaring the coming together of an excluded public, united against the evil of a high electoral threshold that threatened to empty the Knesset of its Arab members.

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The party, under the brilliant leadership of Ayman Odeh, also said that both peoples in this land share a common fate: What’s good for Arabs is good for the Jews. Odeh later offered the two peoples a win-win formula. The right labored – and still does – to stifle this message, but, wonder of wonders, within the party itself, every component seized a sledgehammer, large or small, and worked towards sinking the vessel it was sailing on.

After the farce of the last election, with the party’s Knesset representation shrinking from 13 seats to 10, the Arab public doesn’t sense that there’s something new under the Joint List’s sun.

Instead of analyzing the situation, most of the party’s leaders are rehashing the same old slogans. Odeh is busy explaining why Ehud Barak is evil, as if we weren’t familiar with Barak’s exploits. It should be noted that Hadash and Unied Arab List joined Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 despite his nefarious role in the events of Land Day in 1976 and despite his monstrous role in the deportation of the Arabs of Lod and Ramle in 1948. A careful examination shows that every prime minister in Israel has had a part in various discreditable events.

Karl Marx said that philosophers only interpret the world, when the objective is to change it. The question facing every responsible party is how to change a harsh reality. For example, how should one leverage the momentum created by a former prime minister linking up with the most left-wing party on the map, Meretz, with the aim of generating a political change, and, no less important, a change in the perception that excluded and tainted Arab citizens as enemies of the state.

Many young Arabs look at the Joint List and shrink away. Balad has decided it’s forbidden to sign an agreement with the Democratic Union aimed at gaining it or the Joint List an extra Knesset seat, and Balad may sweep along other parts of the Joint List in opposing such a pact. Now they say the reason is Ehud Barak, but in 2015 Barak was not in the picture, and the Joint List, led by Balad, still didn’t sign such an agreement with Meretz.

One should note that, according to an investigative report in Haaretz, parts of the Joint List negotiated with the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism on the suspicious staffing of polling stations. In the meantime, the voice of MK Ahmad Tibi remains silent. Why should he enter this quagmire, with any position he takes damaging his popularity?

Incidentally, Balad leader Mtanes Shehadeh refused to participate in a panel in Haifa before the last election due to the participation of MKs Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) and Michal Rozin (Meretz). He also called on Arab lists to boycott any event held in Arab educational institutions in which “Zionist parties or former security apparatus members” take part. Who will explain to Shehadeh that he’s running for a Zionist Knesset, not the Palestinian National Council?

The polls show that the Joint List is shuffling along, with signs of weakening, despite the reestablishment of the umbrella slate. So if the two major parties in this union, United Arab List, headed by Mansour Abbas, and Hadash, under Ayman Odeh, don’t take matters into their hands and decide on some serious moves to convince the Arab public that this is a list bent on making some changes, things will only get worse.