What’s Missing Is an Israeli Party

Israel’s decent Jewish citizens should vote only for parties that publicly state that Arab MKs must be part of any future government coalition.

Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha
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From left: MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad), MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and Ibrahim Sarsur (Raam-Taal).
From left: MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad), MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and Ibrahim Sarsur (Raam-Taal).Credit: Emil Salman
Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha

Political life in Israel is based on ethnic and religious identities. There are Jewish parties that occasionally have a token Arab, and Arab parties that sometimes have a token Jew. But there has never been a genuine Israeli party.

In a state whose citizens are of varied ethnic and religious backgrounds, parties named for a particular ethnic or religious community — that is, parties that appropriate for themselves the community’s name — should be prohibited. Every community contains within it a variety of social and political groups.

Recently there have been calls, by Israeli Jews who claim to have the common good in mind, for Israel’s Arabs to run on a single ticket in the March election. The premise of their suggestion goes to the root of the problem in Israel. On one hand, those who seek to put all the Arabs into one political basket also put themselves, all the Jews, into one basket. On the other hand, these same people would never demand that all the Jews should field a single slate. The Jews, in their eyes, are varied, whereas the Arabs are a different story.

Israel’s Arabs do play the democratic game, voting and sending “authentic” representatives from a range of parties to the Knesset. One could say this is democracy at its finest. In comparison to other Arabs in this part of the world, one could say they lucked out.

But from the moment the Arab Knesset members are sworn in, everything stops. From that point on, Israeli democracy starts to limp. In the entire history of the state, none of the individuals tapped to form the government has ever considered bringing the “Arab parties” into the coalition. Nor have any opposition leaders, who ostensibly want to replace the government. The only time the Arab MKs are counted is in a no-confidence motion.

For that reason, anyone who thinks that creating a single Arab ticket, raising voter turnout and putting more Arabs in the Knesset would in any way change the political situation of the country’s Arab citizens will be disappointed. Those who through the years ignored 10 Arab MKs will probably ignore 15 or even 20 Arab MKs. The Jewish parties will form the next government and leave the Arabs outside. So it has been and so it will continue in the state of the Jews.

Unless the ideas that created this situation undergo a sea change, the Knesset holds nothing for Israel’s Arabs. Participating in elections under the current arrangement only perpetuates their exclusion. It only polishes Israel’s image in international public opinion.

Israel’s decent Jewish citizens should vote only for parties that publicly state that Arab MKs must be part of any future government coalition. Israel’s Arab citizens, in contrast to the populist Arab political parties, want to be partners in making the decisions that affect their lives. Therefore, the only worthy alternative in this political desert is a party that champions equal citizenship, neither Jewish nor Arab. Until such a party arises, we will continue to wallow in the racist, ultranationalist dialogue and to sling mud at each other.

In light of this egregious state of affairs, a new party must be established along the lines detailed above. Everyone living in this country who cares about its citizens must make an effort to found such a party. It is the only option worth supporting.

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