Opinion

Israel Elections Results: Why as Balad We Did Not Recommend Gantz as Israel's Next Prime Minister

A man walking past an election ad for the Balad-United Arab List slate in the northern Arab village of Reineh, March 28, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

Less than a week after the election, Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz has already turned his back on the Arab community. He has completely ignored the Joint List, which is the third largest party in the Knesset and the one for which the vast majority of the Arab community cast their ballots.

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He has ignored its demands and denied holding talks with it, and in the end, he was even scared by the fact that three of the four parties comprising the joint ticket recommended him as prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin. This is just the first harbinger of Gantz’s intentions for the future, if he indeed succeeds in a task that currently looks impossible – forming a government that isn’t a unity government.

Throughout the election campaign, the Joint List stressed that it seeks to end the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the racist, dangerous inciter, and prevent him from forming a government. But we never promised to do so by supporting the ostensibly less dangerous candidate, Gantz, at any price. And that’s all the more true when said candidate has offered less than nothing in exchange.

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Ever since the Balad party, one of the Joint List’s four components, announced that it wouldn’t recommend or support Gantz, we have been bombarded with criticism, most of which is unjustified and politically baseless. To clear up any doubts, Balad explicitly said before the election, during the campaign and after the election that it would not recommend any candidate for prime minister.

We in Balad want true equality in every walk of life. We want a democratic system of government, and we want to have an influence. In this, Balad is no different from the other components of the Joint List.

All of us, all 13 elected Knesset members, seek to better the situation of Israel’s Arab citizens and solve their daily problems – to end the plague of violence and crime, stop the home demolitions, reduce the socioeconomic gaps and secure investment in infrastructure and education. At the same time, we’re also interested in contributing to ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state that will provide an answer for the natural rights of the Palestinian people.

True, there’s a difference between Netanyahu and Gantz, even if it’s a minor one. Netanyahu symbolizes the new radical right. He has completely adopted the settler right’s ideology; he expresses hostility toward the legal system and democratic values; he is infected with xenophobia; he wants to impose a unilateral solution on the Palestinian people that would leave them deprived of civil rights, while also depriving them of their right to establish a state; and he wants to continue controlling most of the Palestinian territory that was occupied in 1967. But Netanyahu has gone too far even for the traditional right in almost every sphere, and he sought to exploit his power to evade justice through legislation.

Kahol Lavan, in contrast, can be considered part of the traditional right. Its views on the occupation aren’t far from Netanyahu’s, even if they’re less extreme than the settlement project Netanyahu tries to advance. The same is true for its views on Israel’s character and identity and on economic policy.

For now, it can be said that Kahol Lavan isn’t hostile to the legal system. It doesn’t want to destroy the separation of powers to serve its ideological goals, and it doesn’t see democracy as a threat (even if it’s democracy for Jews only). But on questions relating to the status of Israel’s Arabs – issues like substantive equality and recognizing Arab citizens as a national minority with collective rights – it’s virtually indistinguishable from Netanyahu’s Likud.

Mtanes Shehadeh, Israeli Arab politician and chairman of the Balad party, appears during an electoral campaign rally in the northern Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin on September 15, 2019.
AFP

Given this situation, and in light of Gantz’s military record, his glorification of the murder of civilians in the Gaza Strip in the previous election campaign and his lack of desire to effect a substantive change in the status of Israeli Arabs (who constitute 20 percent of Israel’s citizens), we couldn’t support him. Such support would have obliged us to stray from the ideological principles that have guided us in our political activity ever since the party was established, and there was no justification for that.

Even from the standpoint of purely pragmatic considerations, based on reading the political map, it was clear to us in Balad that given the results of the election, Gantz would seek to form a unity government. He said so openly and publicly.

So yes, we want substantive equality and democracy for all citizens and we seek to have an influence on Israeli society as a whole. It’s clear to us that we’ll have to intensify our appeals to the Jewish public to persuade it that only our vision of a state of all its citizens can ensure true equality and offer hope for a better future.

The Arab community must aspire to substantive political change, not mere empty declarations or minor changes, such as occurred under Yitzhak Rabin’s government in the early 1990s. But the day a brave politician arises, one who’s interested in working together for structural changes anchored in law to ensure true equality for the Arab community and who promises to end the occupation, Balad will recommend him.

Dr. Mtanes Shehadeh is a Knesset member for the Joint List’s Balad faction.