Israeli Arab Society Must Decide: Sellout – or Struggle

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A demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to a coronavirus vaccination facility in Nazareth, an Israeli-Arab city, ahead of Israel's election, January 13, 2021.
A demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to a coronavirus vaccination facility in Nazareth, an Israeli-Arab city, ahead of Israel's election, January 13, 2021.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The struggle of Israel’s Arab citizens is progressing, but there are ups and downs along the way. The downs are of great importance – they allow examination of the struggle and reparation of the defects, something that is hard to do in a euphoric atmosphere.

The Joint List has chalked up significant achievements benefiting the Arab population, first and foremost the de facto recognition of the Arabs as an ethnic group, even by those who have denied the existence of a Palestinian nation. Even during the tough days when their people in the occupied territories and the refugee camps were confronting Israeli aggression, they stood alongside them without hesitation, at the cost of oppression and arrests and even incitement. To be a proud Palestinian in a country that alienates you is no simple thing.

It didn’t happen suddenly, it took place on the basis of the path mapped out by the communists and nationalist entities such as the Al-Ard (The Land) and Bnei Hakfar (Sons of the Land) movements, which is how a generation grew up that refused to be “like orphans around the table of the scoundrels,” to paraphrase Emile Habibi. Generation after generation fought for its legitimate rights with head held high, as citizens and as authentic sons of the land.

And based on the popular struggle, which has included a parliamentary, legal and public relations battle, the Arab community garnered significant achievements in all areas (one should recall that in those days they were designated to serve as “drawers of water and hewers of wood”).

This approach is the basis of the path of the Joint List, a path that also benefited its components, whose combined Knesset representation increased to 15 seats, in addition to the fact that each of them increased its number of seats. Everything was going well, until the chairman of Ra’am (United Arab List) faction, Mansour Abbas, decided to “exploit” Benjamin Netanyahu! He said: “I’m aware of the fact that Netanyahu is trying to exploit me, but I’m also trying to exploit him. It’s mutual.” Meanwhile, at least up to this writing, what has emerged from the “mutuality” is the disbanding of the Joint List – the wet dream of the Israeli right.

But that’s not the end of the story. Abbas wants to grab the bull by its horns. On the one hand he wants “to exploit Netanyahu,” which also means, for example, offering someone under criminal indictment a life preserver in the guise of the so-called French Law – while on the other hand he wants to preserve “religious and social values.” How will these two things go together? If the issue of LGBT individuals is so problematic for Mansour Abbas, how can he support Likud, one of whose senior officials, Amir Ohana, is gay?

And if we’re already discussing societal values, we should note that the most important figure in the relationship between Netanyahu and Ra’am is the righteous Natan Eshel, who acquired a talent for photography under the skirts of the secretaries in the Prime Minister’s Office. On the other hand, it’s surprising that “religious values” are bringing Abbas to join Netanyahu, whose own son Yair is the guiding spirit behind the “muezzin law,” whose purpose is to silence the voice of the muezzin during the call to prayer. And if we want to go even further, we should mention that the righteous Miri Regev called to raise the Israeli flag over the Temple Mount in order to show the world who the sovereign is around here.

Nevertheless we would like to note that along with the war Abbas has declared against the law to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ people, before a Jewish audience at the Shaharit Institute, he declared: “I’m also opposed to gay conversion therapy. A person has to live the way he has chosen and to maintain his sexual identity.” Please don’t translate that into Arabic!

So the Arab community is not only facing an election slate that aims to restore the Arabs to the days of David Ben-Gurion, the days of the satellite slates that ended up flowing into the political reservoirs of the government – but Mansour also wants to wear a mantle of “religious values.”

I expect the voting turnout among the Arab community to increase this time around, because this time it’s not only a matter of a political stance against a corrupt and anti-Arab government, but also a battle over the path Arab society should take: toward a sellout or a struggle.