The Joint List of three Arab parties is the result of a shotgun wedding to contend with the radical increase in the electoral threshold. The promoters of this legislation seemed to think that the fewer parties in the Knesset the better, and that this would add to the stability of coalition governments.
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Looking at the composition of the new Knesset, that objective was obviously not achieved. Actually, there was no reason to assume that it would be. Neither theoretical considerations nor empirical evidence support the assumption that increasing the threshold contributes to the stability of coalition governments.
But it did force three Arab parties from the previous Knesset to forge a joint ticket. If the legislation’s promoters intended to eliminate some or all of the Arab parties from the Knesset, they must have been sorely disappointed. The Joint List will have two more representatives than the three individual parties did in the previous Knesset.
Creating the Joint List was no simple matter. Israel’s Arab citizens have, quite naturally, diverse political opinions and have been represented by a number of parties. There are the Islamists connected with the Islamic Movement, independents, Communists and Arab nationalists. In the past, the Islamists and some independents have been represented by United Arab List-Ta’al, the Communists by Hadash and the Arab nationalists by Balad.
The common denominator of the Joint List’s three parties is hostility to the State of Israel — hostility that ranges from enmity (Hadash) to hate and open support for Israel’s enemies (United Arab List and Balad). At the opening ceremony of the newly elected Knesset, all Joint List MKs walked out during the singing of the national anthem, a blatant sign of disrespect for the state.
It’s not at all clear that this hostility to Israel represents the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens. As a matter of fact, in a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 65 percent of Israel’s Arab citizens said they were very or quite proud to be Israelis.
This hardly squares with the pronouncements of the party leaders in the Joint List. The number of Arab youngsters volunteering for national or military service is increasing every year, even though the leaders vociferously oppose such participation.
Christian Arab youngsters are increasingly volunteering for military service regardless of the opposition of Basel Ghattas, a Christian Arab leader in Balad. That Israel’s Druze youngsters participate in compulsory military service and rise to the top of the Israel Defense Forces is well known.
This raises a question: To what extent does the Joint List really represent the feelings and interests of the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens, and why did most of them vote for the Joint List in last month’s election?
What choice did they have? Yes, some voted for Zionist Union, which had an Arab candidate, and some for Meretz, which also had an Arab candidate, and some for Likud and possibly other parties. But in the absence of a party representing the needs of Israel’s Arab citizens that was not hostile to Israel, the default choice was evidently the Joint List.
In the minds of many Jewish Israelis, the Joint List created the impression that most of Israel’s Arabs were hostile to the state, and nothing said by their leaders during the campaign indicated otherwise. That’s why Benjamin Netanyahu’s emphasis in the campaign’s waning days on the massive Arab turnout brought many Likud supporters to the polls in response.