Opinion

Trust Israeli Arabs to Splinter Politically

I hereby announce with regret, mixed with relief, that we must adopt the words of Ecclesiastes: 'There is nothing new under the sun'

File photo: MK Ahmed Tibi in the Knesset, Ausgust 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

For four whole years, unity was maintained between the Arabs and the Jewish democratic forces — from January 2015, when the Joint List was established, to January 2019, when Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party left that alliance of predominantly Arab parties. Is there any achievement greater?

In a few decades, some diligent historian will discover that at the very moment that the Arab world was mercilessly riven by schisms, a uniquely favored group, comprising some 2 million Arabs, confounded all expectations to unite behind an electoral bloc. We can confidently predict that our dedicated but pitiable historian will never understand, despite all his research, the reason it disintegrated. 

He won’t believe that a single poll, meant to determine the alliance’s leader and the disposition of its Knesset seats, shattered this unity. Even today, one can hear “the roaring laughter of history,” to quote Emil Habibi.

Meanwhile, I’d like to tell my brothers on the right, who are worried by Arab unity, that they need worry no longer. The Arabs are returning to business as usual, to that old, beloved norm of fragmentation. How did the Egyptian television announcer put it? “We’re sorry for the artistic program we aired. We will return immediately to the snafu.” And indeed, that has been the state of Arab history in recent decades — continuous snafus.

Thus I hereby announce with regret, mixed with relief, that we must adopt the words of Ecclesiastes: “That which has been is that which shall be, And that which has been done is that which shall be done; And there is nothing new under the sun.” 

But why the sigh of relief? Because now, we’ve been freed of concern over preserving our unity. After all, when there’s unity, we constantly worry lest it fall apart. But if it doesn’t exist, the rules of the game change. Everyone is free to do as he pleases. In Arabic, they say, “The drum is torn and the lovers scatter.”

Meanwhile, I’ll tell you about my father, may he rest in peace. When I used to carry all the world’s cares on my shoulder, including the fate of the revolution in Nicaragua, he would say, “Don’t be the head, the head has many aches.” 

Today, Tibi wants to be the head because of his popularity. Nevertheless, it’s worth nothing that his popularity didn’t arise from being the head, but from being a media star who, in every debate, trounces the right’s spokesmen.

It is for this trait that Tibi is admired. And like every star, he’s built to be at the heart of the consensus, to be embraced by Arab society, to be praised here and patted on the back there. 

But if he’s chosen to head the ticket, he’ll be saddled with many unpopular tasks — how to gather opposing forces into a single forum, how to decide disputed issues, how to absorb the anger of the embittered. Therefore, the star’s work bears no resemblance to that of the leader.

For four years — 48 months, around 1,400 days — each new day brought a new problem, and sometimes even two, to Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh. Some came from his closest friends, who never ceased to undermine him, and from his partners in the alliance, in the form of a remark here or an action there, as if unity were no more than a shiny wrapping. And as if all this were not enough, he’s also the one who, unlike the others, had to account to the Arab media, whose jaws gaped hungrily for every tweet by a Joint List lawmaker.

Yet despite all this, the bloc’s creation and conduct held good news for Israel’s democrats — good tidings, from Odeh’s own lips, of the interests shared by both peoples, that what’s good for the Arabs is also good for the Jews. Today’s tidings, in contrast, are those of the star. For after all, what is Tibi’s agenda beyond the question of who is most popular and how will the Knesset seats be apportioned?

It turns out that the latest political fashion among Israel’s Jews, whose chief proponents include Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, has not overlooked the Arabs. They, too, need stars with no agenda.