Why Can't Israel's Left Work With the Arab Joint List?

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The leaders of the Arab Joint List in the Knesset, last month.
The leaders of the Arab Joint List in the Knesset, last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The opposition’s job in a democracy is to challenge the government and even embarrass it. In general, the opposition offers an alternative to the existing regime. If not, it can be many things, but it sure is no opposition.

Yet, when it comes to Arabs, the axioms no longer hold. Those on the Zionist left ask members of the Joint List, which sits in the opposition, to provide backup votes for their coalition.

And why? Because the coalition has already crowned the chairman of the United Arab List, lawmaker Mansour Abbas, over all the Arabs, and the Arabs should be happy with the selection of the masters.

Some Arab coalition members already believe that the job of the Arabs in the opposition is to support the government from the stands. Meretz lawmaker Esawi Freige was furious at the Joint List for proposing a bill to recognize the Kafr Qasem massacre and embarrassed the coalition. I’d expect Freige to exploit such a proposal to pressure the coalition to adopt such a decision. However, the dynamic of the “pressure from within” is nowhere to be found among Arab coalition legislators.

They hold the conviction that it’s inappropriate to challenge a coalition containing Arab legislators. According to these new rules, the Joint List is forbidden from proposing a hospital in Sakhnin, for example, because the intent here, they say, is to embarrass UAL, which is committed to coalition decisions.

Well, even if a hospital in Sakhnin won’t be built, the debate on the principle is very important. Why isn’t there a single state hospital in any Arab city? The proposal was made to challenge the government and spur public debate on the issue, and if the endeavor succeeds, perhaps a state hospital in an Arab city will finally be built.

The Zionist left fought the Joint List fiercely because it didn’t support the state budget. In other words, even if the coalition is disgusted by the Joint List to the point that it even refused to receive its support from the outside, the Arabs must still vote along with the coalition at any cost. Only a crazy left full of itself is capable of making such a demand.

Still, when the Joint List votes against the budget, it offers its own alternative. And if its opposition threatens to topple the government, the coalition leaders will do the party a favor and negotiate with its members for their support.

Either way, the Joint List benefits; it promotes its positions, and if its demands are met, all the better. Moreover, even if the Joint List returns empty-handed, it’s worth quoting the 10th century poet Al-Mutanabbi, “You have no horses to give her and no money. Then let speech aid you, if your circumstances do not.” When it comes to the Arabs, they are even stingy with their words.

The Zionist left’s gatekeepers want the Arabs’ total submission. Thus, forgive my frankness, behind every leftist Zionist hides a condescending nationalist who knows what’s “good for the Arabs.” It really looks like the guys in government have already opened a customer service office for the Arab public, run by UAL. Ask for whatever your heart desires, dear Arabs, and the UAL will write it down and pass it on, including to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked. Just look: In return for recognizing the village of Khashem Zaneh in the Negev, Shaked intends to grab 80 percent of its lands – 10,500 of 13,000 dunams (3,250 acres).

A good friend protested a sentence in my previous opinion piece in Hebrew: “The left is mostly a hybrid of messianic nationalism and universal values intended mainly for Jews.” Instead of heaping on more words, I quote Labor chairwoman Merav Michaeli, who said last week that Zionist considerations dictate the map of priority areas. Well, what makes Zionism the same as what’s in the clear civic interest if not messianic nationalism? Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz’s agreement to build a hospital in Kiryat Ata – and not in Sakhnin – falls into this category.

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