Opinion |

Arabs in the Knesset Are Recovering From Stockholm Syndrome

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Knesset, 2021.
Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Knesset, 2021.Credit: Knesset spokesperson
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) was cheeky. She dared to vote her conscience and caused deep disappointment to her flaccid party and the coalition it sits in.

Rinawie Zoabi thwarted, temporarily, the military draft law proposed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “This government has crossed red lines,” she said in explanation of her vote. “The way the cabinet, the Public Security Ministry, the Housing Ministry, the police and the Jewish National Fund have acted in the Negev against the Bedouin is a mark of shame belonging to a brutal, insensitive and heavy-handed policy.”

Rinawie Zoabi isn’t only being accused of betraying the coalition – she is also impolite. She didn’t even warn her party leadership in advance. Where’s the sense of responsibility? Where’s the solidarity? Doesn’t she know this government took it upon itself not to deal with matters that are overly sensitive and could cause it to fall? That it has imposed silence and paralysis on itself in all matters that could cause ideological conflict? That it eradicated the concept of conscience from the coalition agreement?

The threat Rinawie Zoabi has posed is shaking the coalition’s association of friends – all of a sudden they are being required to show respect for the feelings, conscience and national identity of the Arab minority and its representatives. After all, neither the draft law nor the conscription rates among ultra-Orthodox Jews were of interest to her. It’s the business of the Jews, who are still fantasizing about “sharing the burden” of military service. Rinawie Zoabi just shrewdly exploited the Jewish domestic conflict and the fragility of the coalition to advance an Arab agenda, or at least fly a banner of protest over a marginal, trivial matter – planting trees in the Negev.

Note that Rinawie Zoabi isn’t the first coalition member to protested about this issue. She was preceded by MK Mansour Abbas (United Arab List), who threatened to abstain from Knesset votes if the plantings weren’t stopped immediately. The threat worked, Abbas got what he demanded, having gotten the electricity law even before that – and in return promised to support the military draft law and the “Harish law,” which extends the mandate of the committee for the development of the new town of Harish in the north.

Abbas, his party colleague MK Walid Taha and Rinawie Zoabi aren’t bench-warmers or decorative dolls in the temple of Israeli democracy. Political circumstances have given them considerable power, despite the small number of Knesset seats their parties command. However, just as in the case of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, it isn’t the number of lawmakers that determines results, but rather the ability to deploy that number effectively. The fundamental change is that the makeup of the coalition, which is stretched to its ideological limits, is precisely what enables MKs to set the ideological boundaries – boundaries whose crossing will scatter the components of the coalition in all directions.

In the not-too-distant past it was the Haredi MKs who dictated the boundaries of the permissible; now it is the turn of the Arab MKs, and they understand perfectly well that their time is short and their task is great. The chairs they sit in are burning. If a plea bargain is struck Benjamin Netanyahu is banished from the political arena, they are liable to be kicked out of the amusement park. If Hamas decides to launch rockets and Israel triggers its automatic reaction, they will have difficulty remaining in the coalition. If the citizenship law is advanced, and it legitimizes pushing the Arabs into the corner of the tolerated minority, they will have to break up the party. Whatever isn’t achieved now is liable to evaporate.

Fortunately for Israeli democracy, the political “balance of terror” that is keeping the coalition alive is making it one of the highest-quality coalitions ever seen here. It requires all its members to treat with reverence not only the financial requirements and budgetary allocations but also the conscience, feelings and national identity of all its constituent parts. Rinawie Zoabi did not threaten this coalition when she voted against the military draft law. The law will pass and the coalition will survive, but Rinawie Zoabi has held up a necessary yellow card to anyone who dares relate to the Arab MKs, from any party, as victims of Stockholm Syndrome.

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