The Joint List Is Israel's Only Democratic Opposition

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Joint List lawmakers confront the police during a Sheikh Jarrah protest, last month.
Joint List lawmakers confront the police during a Sheikh Jarrah protest, last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The six Knesset members of the Joint List – five Palestinians and one anti-Zionist Jew – constitute the only democratic opposition to Israel’s new, right-wing government. The so-called opposition, consisting of Likud, the Haredi parties and the Judeo-Samarians of the Religious Zionism party, will gladly vote with the new government as long as it continues to rob Palestinians of their land, slash hospital budgets and bomb the Gaza Strip. The social-Zionist parties (Labor and Meretz), a minority in numbers and public impact, will be powerless to object. They are bound by coalition agreements and fear to disappoint their voters, who believe they have “received back the state” because the Haredim and Benjamin Netanyahu are no longer in power.

Meretz and Labor lawmakers have already shown how restricted they are in their enfeebled positions, by agreeing to Ayelet Shaked becoming interior and later justice minister, to Avigdor Lieberman being finance minister and to a fox (from Yamina) guarding the henhouse (that is, serving as minister of settlement affairs). Labor Party cabinet members and lawmakers will salute every rapacious IDF operation, with parliamentary questions and protests by Meretz lawmakers possibly even going unanswered. And the United Arab List? It will quickly discover its inability to protect its supporters’ rights to electricity and water. But if the new government does surprise with some sort of program to advance equality and endeavor to reduce inequality and discrimination, it can count on the Joint List’s six votes.

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The Joint List is the only democratic opposition not only because it supports measures such as raising wages and increasing taxes on corporations and on millionaires; increased supervision and restriction of arms dealers, the restoration of welfare services, repeal of the nation-state law and increasing state funding for underserved local governments. In its very existence and in its platform, this alliance of predominantly Arab parties opposes the inferior position that the democratic-in-its own-eyes State of Israel assigned to its Palestinian citizens. The Joint List’s lawmakers represent 2 million of these citizens, including those who did not vote for it – or for anyone – as well as the thousands of Jews who voted for it.

There is another reason the Joint List’s representatives embody the principles of democracy: They are linked to all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea who are not permitted to vote. They are the natural delegates of all the Palestinians whose lives are determined by the government of Israel, the ones to whom the Jewish and very undemocratic Israel denies the right to vote. They are in fact the representatives of the members of the indigenous people, dispossessed of their land and history by illegitimate, devious legislation. These are people living under constant threat to their lives, with masked and armed soldiers breaking into their homes in the dead of night. The six lawmakers potentially represent the university students from the Gaza Strip who are barred by Israel from studying in Nablus or Ramallah, or the children who don’t know what a mountain is because Israel imprisons them in the coastal cage that is Gaza.

The six lawmakers of the only democratic opposition in Israel did not choose this massive representation. They are too few, they are lacking in means and power in the face of Israeli’s unflagging trickery and they often disappoint their voters. Short-tempered Israeli interviewers will tell them to deal with sewage and crime, not with the theft of land in the villages of Beita and Qabalan, not with the freedom of movement of Gazans or the right to self-determination. But their representative role stems from their awareness of what Israel does beyond the Green Line and from the history and national-indigenous identity of five of them. They oppose the most blatant nondemocratic characteristic of Israel: controlling the land while excluding the population in that land from the ballot box. They recognize the 1967 borders, the Green Line, while Israel is systematically erasing it.

Thus, the Joint List is a small party in the Knesset while representing the largest number of people – 7 million – who live in a land ruled by one government. In a proper world, the parties of the Joint List would have established the government.

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