Opinion

I Can Barely Feel Israel's Democracy, but I'm Still Going to Vote in Its Election

Screengrab from Tamer Nafar's video "Tamer Must Vote," released April 4, 2019.
Screengrab/YouTube

A year ago, I sang the following words: “Shalom, Shalom, I don’t want this shekel/I want to stand up for my rights/I don’t want the Moshav, don’t want the Knesset.” A few months ago, I wrote in a song: “We better vote or we’ll end up outside this country.” Psychologically, I have a split personality. But, if you ask any Palestinian citizen in the country, he will tell you, “Welcome to the club, Habibi.”

The conflict between these two positions – to vote in the election or not to vote in the election – epitomizes the daily conflict between wishful thinking and reality, between the dream to become a famous singer like Sama Shoufani and the fact that we have no stage outside the Israeli version of “The Voice.” You would certainly think, so there’s the option of competing on “The Voice” in Lebanon, but go try to get a Palestinian passport, and even if you were to succeed, you would have to evade the Shin Bet to get into Lebanon. In short, we are always at the mercy of the occupation.

Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable in the Knesset, a parliament that doesn’t speak my language and doesn’t wave my flag. On the contrary, all it symbols represent my repression and my destruction. I’m not comfortable with the conflict over my essence, my existence and my language being conducted in a language that isn’t my own. I’m not comfortable being a lawmaker in a parliament that embraces apartheid laws. I’m not comfortable being a G-string covering the nakedness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he boasts to every ambassador that “Israel is the only democratic oasis in the Middle East.”

I use the G-string as a metaphor because the metaphor of a fig leaf is obvious. The G-string, in contrast, is barely seen and barely felt, and we barely see or feel this democracy, which we are supposed to celebrate.

We don’t see it in the home demolitions, in the indifference to violence, crime and murder or killings of Arab protesters. When a citizen of Ethiopian origin is killed in a demonstration there is justice and solidarity. If we, the Arabs, take to the streets, they arrange 13 martyrs for us. In other words, it’s clear that the regime and not just me suffers from schizophrenia.

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There are basically two regimes: a democratic regime for Jews and a fascist regime for Arabs; a democratic regime that promises someone like the racist rapper "The Shadow" unlimited freedom of expression and makes a lawmaker like Hazan into a superstar of incitement.

Nor do we see the public or law enforcement get worked up when some Jews shamelessly permit our killing and literally define us as their slaves. Do I really need to explain how the state treats us? Need I recall the story of the poetess Dareen Tatour, who spent two years in jail for two lines she wrote in a poem? Need I discuss the closing of the Al Midan theater in Haifa – the only major Arab theater in Israel – because of a play that didn’t sit right with Ms. Miri?

And after all, and despite everything, my wife and I intend to vote for the Joint List. Despite all the disputes among its members, the fights over spots on its candidates list and despite all the mistakes and sins of its parties, the reconstitution of the Joint List as a big tent including (more or less) all political shades of Arab society in Israel is a small victory that deserves our vote.

It must stress that if the Joint List hadn’t reunited, I wouldn’t have voted for any part of it. It is also important to note that if I were living in a truly democratic country I could boycott the election, but when boycotting constitutes the basis of my rival’s power and the weakening of my people, boycotting stops being a real option.

Under an apartheid regime, I don’t think we would have the privilege of making personal choices. We share a common urgency. Despite everything, I am convinced our presence in this oppressive system is better than our absence. If we had an alternative political framework, or if we had another way of establishing our presence, I would shout without hesitation “boycott the election!” But, this is all we have for now, and Arab MKs try to navigate, fight home demolitions and address our problems within this system. They let off steam in our name sometimes with a sharp comment or reaction. Sometimes they succeed, and mostly they fail. But it’s reality.

Tamer Nafar is a hip-hop artist who cowrote and starred in “Junction 48.”