Jewish Democrats, Join the Arabs

This election is a once-in-67-years opportunity for Jewish democrats, and they are legion, to tell their Arab compatriots that they, too, are an integral part of this country.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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At protest against Citizenship Law, signs read, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” October 2010.
At protest against Citizenship Law, signs read, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” October 2010.Credit: Tal Cohen
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

“Throw him into the ocean, bound hand and foot, but caution him against getting wet,” said an ancient Arab poet.

Really, what do you want of those parties whose support comes mainly from the Arab population, such as Hadash, Balad, Ra’am and Ta’al? Even the High Court of Justice, supposedly the last bulwark against the trampling of the rights of the weak by the rapacious majority, legitimized the raising of the electoral threshold. People now come with complaints to this country’s Arab citizens, questioning the rationale behind the unification of these parties. Well, if people are annoyed by this development, they can direct their displeasure at the champions of “governance” who cannot bear to govern in the presence of Arabs, even if they only occupy the opposition benches.

For the Arab population, raising the electoral threshold has only one meaning: unite or disappear. That’s how things stand now. Any option that does not include running as one list, together with allies from the ranks of democratic-minded Jewish citizens, means the loss of hundreds of thousands of votes that are all opposed to Netanyahu, in effect contributing to the perpetuation of a Likud government.

But look what’s happening: Even when the extreme right pushes the Arab population’s representatives into a corner, they refuse to confine themselves. Even when there is no alternative but to run on a joint slate, they insist that the list of candidates bear the hallmarks of a democratic process – that it include Jewish candidates, that two women are in the top 10 slots, and that it adopt a formula for peace accepted by the entire enlightened world, calling for equal rights for the Arab minority and protection of the rights of the society’s weak.

As far as I’m aware, the name of this list will not exclude anyone, regardless of nationality or religion; it will be a common list, not a closed, exclusive Arab one. Most importantly, this progressive, humanistic platform will be underpinned by the major trends in Arab society, national, religious and socialist.

How wonderful! The Arabs are not giving up, even under these impossible circumstances. If from the very first days after this state was founded, when they remained “as orphans having to rely on scoundrels,” in their own words, they never gave up. Will they do so now that those scoundrels are upgraded through a manipulation of the electoral threshold?

Did you attend the Hadash convention in Shfaram the other day, where a wave of hope and change swept over everyone present? Three Knesset members resigned, opening the door to new, young candidates as well as for women, based on the party’s Jewish-Arab partnership, the ultimate response to all those preaching separation of the two peoples.

At the same time, even the names of the Jewish parties give a clear message of turning inwards and exclusion of the Other. One calls itself Habayit Hayehudi, the Jewish Home, while another labels itself Yisrael Beiteinu, Israel is Our Home (obviously without the Arabs). The camp with pretensions of saving us all from the jaws of the extreme right calls itself the Zionist Camp. Avigdor Lieberman, head of the party of expulsion and corruption, who plans to expel the residents of Umm al-Fahm and their lands (which, it is reasonable to assume, will be forgotten while this transfer takes place) to a Palestinian state (which he made sure was suffocated in advance) is a legitimate figure in the eyes of this camp.

At this juncture, I dare say that the patriotic choice for both Arabs and Jews in this country is to support the joint list of Arab parties, along with their democratic-minded Jewish partners. It is a once-in-67-years opportunity for Jewish democrats, and they are legion, to tell their Arab compatriots that they, too, are an integral part of this country, that they and their parents also participated in building this place. One could also add, with some modesty, that without this country’s Arab citizens, the “soft right” will devour its Jewish democrats, leaving the remnants as pickings for the extreme right.

With an embrace and a sigh, drowning in a sea of tears, Jewish democrats might whisper to their Arab counterparts, “Our fates are joined, and we will never be parted.”

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