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Israel's Resigning Arab Legislator Is Right and Wrong at the Same Time

Zouheir Bahloul should retract his resignation and keep making life difficult for the rightists in Zionist Union

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Arab Israeli lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul speaks at a press conference, February 28, 2015.
Arab Israeli lawmaker Zouheir Bahloul speaks at a press conference, February 28, 2015. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP Photo

Zouheir Bahloul never should have joined Zionist Union to begin with. The party’s very name triggers aversion among Israel’s Arabs. Zionism is the realm of Jews alone.

At the time, the question arose as to why he joined people who tell him that this home is not intended for him. In the Knesset, he has taken independent positions. Now he must continue serving as the bitter pill his right-wing colleagues in that party must swallow.

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Remember that Bahloul alone opposed his party’s chairman, Avi Gabbay, in boycotting the centenary ceremony for the Balfour Declaration, which heralded the Nakba 30 years later. He stood alone in declaring that soldiers are “the markers of the occupation. What can a Palestinian do after 49 years in which he has been under the yoke of the occupation that dominates his life, as he yearns for freedom to no avail?”

And now, of all times, after the passing of the nation-state law, he intends to fold and resign. After all, what’s the intention, obvious to everyone, of this law? It’s to create a country free of Arabs with an Arab-free Knesset. And here comes an Arab MK playing into the hands of the right and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared: “The Knesset won’t cry, let him resign.”

If the MKs don’t cry over the resignation of Bahloul, a member of a legitimate Zionist party, they definitely won’t bemoan departing Arab MKs from Joint List or Meretz. On the contrary, they’ll urge them to resign, even resorting to mild physical pressure. There’s already a law letting elected representatives dismiss their elected colleagues, something unheard of in respectable democracies but only in the “democracy of the nation-state.”

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One can compare (in broad strokes, the conditions on the ground are different today) the current situation of Arabs in Israel to the situation of Palestinians in 1948, who had to receive ID cards from the new state that had just vanquished them.

There are those who criticized the Arabs’ willingness to live under the dominion of people who had expelled most of their nation, but today we realize that the people who said “despite everything, this is our homeland and we won’t leave, even at the cost of discrimination and oppression” were right.

The 160,000 Palestinians who remained are now 2 million, who can continue and cry out in the words of the poet Tawfiq Zayyad against the racists of years past: “We’ll remain here, like a wall on your chests, we’ll stick in your throats like a piece of cactus.”

Wailing and moaning won’t help when it comes to the future of a community under threat. After all, Benjamin Netanyahu sheds no tears over friends and relatives who’ve traveled a long way with him; don’t expect him to be ruffled by an Arab resigning from the Knesset. His son Yair will only laugh. And what about Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has promised to chop the heads off Arabs who stand in his way? What’s he going to do, put up a mourners’ tent and tear out his hair?

People don’t usually choose their fate, fate chooses them. Now is the time, Zouheir Bahloul, to retract your resignation. Two challenges await you. The first is to remain one of the 55 MKs opposing this law in the 120-seat Knesset. This is a considerable force, including Zionists and even dyed-in-the-wool rightists. The second challenge is to serve as that piece of cactus in the throats of your right-wing colleagues in Zionist Union.

I’m sorry to say this, dear Bahloul, but if you resign you’ll stain your record. Precisely in these difficult times you must continue the tradition of your people’s 70-year struggle. Keep being a wall on the chests of the racists and a fresh breeze stroking the faces of Jews and Arabs fighting the insatiable evil of the right.