Why Israel's Jews Must Vote for the Arab List

Those who hesitate because Joint List is an 'Arab party' should remember the role that Jews played in the African National Congress during the apartheid era.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
A still from the Joint List's campaign video showing a girl holding up a sign reading 'March 17.'
A still from the Joint List's campaign video showing a girl holding up a sign reading 'March 17.'
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The Joint List is the clear ray of light in this election season. It’s important for many Arabs to vote for it, and no less important for many Jews to do likewise. There is no more appropriate way for anyone who is guided by moral and ethical standards to demonstrate empathy and register protest.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh (left) with MKs Haneen Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, February 17, 2015.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Those who hesitate because it’s an “Arab party” should remember the role that Jews played in the African National Congress during the apartheid era. They did not recoil because it was a black movement. They did not hesitate because it was not their battle, supposedly.

The ANC was the movement of the oppressed natives of South Africa, and the Joint List is the movement of the oppressed natives of Israel.

There were a few South African Jews with a conscience who not only supported the ANC but also fought, were injured and were banned alongside their black comrades.

Denounced as traitors then, today they are a great source of pride – to Jews as well. Joe Slovo, the commander of the ANC military wing who went on to become a cabinet minister in the post-apartheid government; Ronnie Kasrils; Albie Sachs, who became a justice in South Africa’s Constitutional Court; and Ben Turok, who became a member of parliament – these were among many who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the oppressed blacks, despite or perhaps because they were white Jews who enjoyed all the privileges of the apartheid regime.

Less is being asked of Jews in Israel, for now. They are called upon to identify with a new party that offers a promise of something new. There is no need to ignore its failure to put more Jews on its slate, and it is okay to be upset that it did not sign a surplus votes agreement with Meretz. One can be skeptical of the future relations of its various components, but anyone who dreams of genuine change, not about replacing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Isaac Herzog, must vote for the Joint List.

What better option is there for the Israeli voter who can no longer bear the occupation in the territories and the ultranationalism within Israel, of the ruse that Israel is both Jewish and democratic, of the injustices of present-day Zionism, and who perhaps has reached the conclusion that the two-state solution is dead? Who will they vote for?

Are there many other party heads as impressive, eloquent and refreshing as Ayman Odeh? Are there many other MKs as outstanding as Ahmad Tibi, Jamal Zahalka, Dov Khenin and even, yes, even Haneen Zoabi? Is there another party that does not demand “support for Israel Defense Forces soldiers” at the start of every pointless war?

If the overwhelming majority of Arabs vote for them, they will, for the first time, enter the heart of the political dialogue in Israel – to the annoyance of nearly all the other parties.

If many Jews also vote for it, we can begin to speak of a “game changer,” and perhaps even of a good omen.

Just imagine: The Joint List is the third largest party in the Knesset. The coalition belongs to Netanyahu, Herzog and Yair Lapid. Odeh is selected leader of the opposition – the heir of Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, Ehud Barak, Netanyahu, all prime ministers who held the position at one point.

The prime minister is obligated to brief him on security and diplomatic matters, “no less than once a month,” by law. The law requires him to address the Knesset after every speech by the premier. Foreign heads of state meet with him and listen to his views. As a symbol of government, he is protected by the Shin Bet security service. Perhaps for the first time in its history, Israel has a true leader of opposition.

A few stereotypes will be shattered in a single, not-imaginary act that might also usher in a deep change in consciousness.

Odeh could surprise us yet, as he already surprised many Israelis who were not even aware of the existence of the combinations “Arab and impressive,” “Palestinian and charming.” His party must get a lot of votes for this process to begin. His friends must support him and many Jews must choose the Israeli ANC, which could yet prove it has what it takes to prevent the establishment of a second apartheid state, the apartheid state of the Land of Israel.

Gideon Levy tweets at @levy_haaretz



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