Unity Among Israeli Arab Parties Helps Everybody

It proves the country's liberalism; let's hope the center-left parties follow suit.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Arab-Israeli parliament members and other candidates join hands after a joint political slate was announced, Nazareth,  January 23, 2015.
Arab-Israeli parliament members and other candidates join hands after a joint political slate was announced, Nazareth, January 23, 2015.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

At the last minute, the reputation of the liberal, Zionist, secular and democracy-promoting camp was saved: The Arab parties agreed to run on a joint slate, ensuring that there will be Arabs in the Knesset.

We can breathe a sigh of relief. The ethnic pluralism that made Israel the “sole democracy in the Middle East” can raise its head proudly once again. As former MK Azmi Bishara once said, “Israel isn’t doing the Arabs a favor by letting them enter the Knesset. We’re doing it a favor by being willing to enter the Knesset.”

Bishara fled Israel for Qatar, but his statement still holds true. The phrase “the Arab MKs” now has formal validity; no longer will we be confused by the various names the Arab parties used to set themselves apart. Israel’s liberal camp now merely has to persuade the Arabs to go out and vote for their one slate so these liberals can wash their hands clean. What could be easier?

But the Arab community and its leaders didn’t need liberal Israeli guidance to form a joint list, just as they won’t be waiting with bated breath for a directive to vote and bolster Israeli democracy. What choice did they have after being trapped by an electoral threshold that reflects the Jewish perception that “the Arabs are the same Arabs”? And what does it matter if the Arabs sit in the Knesset together or in separate parties? They’re all Israel haters anyway, aren’t they?

In response to Haaretz’s editorial on Sunday encouraging Arabs to vote — which was also translated into Arabic — Rami Mansour and Ghazi Nabulsi wrote on the arabs48 website that the paper was giving advice to the Arab citizen, whom it considers mindless, and therefore sees its role as the white man outlining the correct path.

Mansour and Nabulsi didn’t understand that this wasn’t advice but rather a desire for the Arabs to save the liberal camp — the camp that spawned Zionist Camp and was very wary of inviting the Arabs into a coalition. It’s the camp headed by Isaac Herzog, who supported the raising of the electoral threshold, and Tzipi Livni, who supported the nation-state bill. It’s the camp that declares “No one will teach us what it means to be Zionist” and sees cooperation with the Arabs as a threat to its popularity.

Despite this, the joint slate is good for the Arabs — without question. For the first time there will be a link between the Arab community and its representatives on a national and ethnic basis, rather than on a divisive political basis. National duty will dictate that Arabs vote for Arabs and only Arabs; this will be the nature of Israeli democracy.

Those who argue that a large Arab bloc in the Knesset could prevent racist legislation or improve the standing of Israeli Arabs will have to clarify just how the addition of three or four Arab MKs could block the nation-state bill, ensure the preservation of Arabic as an official language and block settlement construction. They’ll also have to reconcile the contradiction between Zionist Camp’s fear of inviting the Arabs into a coalition and the expectation that the Arab bloc will change anything.

For even if Zionist Camp wins the election, would it dare have its governing coalition rely on the Arabs’ support for its policies? And it doesn’t take much effort to calculate how much power the united Arab ticket would have if the rightist nationalist camp wins the election.

Sending Benjamin Netanyahu and his racists in the government packing is a vital goal. But anyone waving the banner of eradicating racism and nationalism can’t treat the Arabs and their ticket like something stuck on his sole. The way the Arabs decide to run in the election is their business. Their inclusion in the country’s healing is everyone’s business.

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