Opinion

This Is What Political Persecution Looks Like

Otzma Yehudit's Itamar Ben Gvir, Adva Biton, Benzi Gopstein, and Baruch Marzel at a press conference after Marzel and Gopstein were banned from running, August 26, 2019.
Emil Salman

Last month, the ruling Likud party followed in the footsteps of the anti-Arab Otzma Yehudit party by turning to the Supreme Court, appealing the Central Elections Committee decision to allow the Arab Joint List party to run in the upcoming Knesset election.

This was a call for the delegitimization and effacement of any representation of the Arab population in the Knesset, tying in with the Likud’s campaign to install cameras at polling stations, which is an incitement against Arab voters based on racist notions that Arabs are fraudulent when it comes to elections. Such incitement is extreme even in comparison to Netanyahu’s previous election-day warning that “the Arabs are streaming in droves towards the polling stations.”

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But there is nothing new here. Throughout the course of Israel’s political history, the ground has been prepared for racist voices that are now sounded openly. In the present atmosphere it’s not surprising that I, an Arab woman and a novice Knesset member who has barely embarked on her parliamentarian path, have been “marked” by the right and the Kahanists. They have launched a campaign of incitement and persecution against me based on things I’ve said in the past, only because the words don’t sound pleasing to right-wing ears in this country.

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How did social media posts supporting human rights and the rights of political prisoners become a tool in Kahanist political propaganda? How did their distorted and inflammatory interpretation of those posts become fact among legal advisers, judges and the media? This is a personal case – an attack on me – but it reflects the daily reality of Arab citizens of this country. Under conditions of discriminatory legislation and an inflamed public opinion, they are considered guilty even if their innocence is proved.

My story began when Otzma Yehudit members poked through my Facebook page, going several years back. They meticulously searched for pretexts to disqualify me. They ignored posts and many publications in which it was clear that my main interests are human rights, women’s rights, support for freedom, liberty and justice, and obviously, opposition to the occupation.

They appointed themselves as judges and decided that I “supported terrorism.” They paid particular attention to a post I shared about Samir Kuntar, after his assassination in 2015. The purpose of that post was to protest the policy of targeted assassinations. There is no organization or human rights activist who does not oppose targeted assassinations.

The Kahanists latched on to other posts describing my meetings with released prisoners, all of them Israeli citizens. It seems that my opposition to targeted assassinations and my support for the rights of released prisoners are justifications for persecuting me, according to large parts of the public. This is apparently the position of the attorney general as well. 

The legal system in Israel still treats released political prisoners as lepers. The human rights’ perspective, by which a person who has been judged and has paid his debt to society should be given an opportunity to rejoin society as an ordinary citizen, is considered dangerous.

The strangest thing about all this is that I haven’t yet been given an opportunity to express my views, not before the Central Elections Committee and not before the High Court of Justice. If I were given that chance, I would say what I’m writing here – I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have a clear political position supporting human rights and opposing violence, and I’ve never concealed it.

Regrettably, we’ve grown accustomed to such demonization. Such incitement against Arab Knesset members and the Arab public in general has been around forever, only growing worse since Balad was formed in the 1990s. Our vision of a state of all its citizens, with full and equal rights for Arab citizens, in all walks of life, should be self-evident. But in a situation where Jewish supremacy prevails, it sounds like an abomination.

Let’s make this clear once and for all: Arab leaders are not accountable to extremists and inciters. Arab leaders derive their legitimacy from their voters, whom they struggle to represent. We’ll continue to strengthen the moral voice against the occupation and for national justice. This is the sane democratic voice.

The writer is a Knesset member from the Joint List slate, representing its Balad faction.