Opinion |

When an Arab Joins a Zionist Party

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arriving at Channel 12 News for an interview on Thursday.
Lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arriving at Channel 12 News for an interview on Thursday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

An Israeli Arab joining a Zionist party is, by definition, a Zionist Arab; a Zionist Arab is by definition a collaborator. There is no other way to describe attempts by Israeli Palestinians to integrate and build a political career in Zionist parties.

It’s not their place, under no circumstance. Only the opportunists and the naïve still try. It always ends in tears. Perhaps as a Jew it’s hard to judge them, hard to put ourselves in their shoes, but you can’t miss it.

Now it’s Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi’s lament. True, at first she thought of joining Balad, but eventually she landed in Meretz. It ended in chagrin for all involved. She should have known it in advance. It’s not Nitzan Horowitz’s sour mien, as she complained – it’s Meretz’s Zionism.

True, Esawi Freige juggles successfully; Ibtisam Mara’ana juggles with similar success over at Labor; but their moment of truth will come. It will end in lies or tears. At the next attack on Gaza, or the next funeral of a Palestinian journalist, they will hear the shameful support or silence of the heads of their parties, and will be able to forbear no longer.

The Zionist parties, leftists as they claim to be, believe in Jewish supremacism. You can’t be a Zionist and not believe in it. That’s the essence of Zionism. You can’t be an honest Arab and agree to that. That’s dereliction of duty, that’s more miserable collaboration than the collaboration of the wretched of the earth in the occupied territories, forced to submit to the Shin Bet’s extortion. With Israeli Arabs it’s a free choice, which is why it is worse.

The history of these attempts is embarrassing and shameful. If at first these integration efforts could be understood as a result of the shock and trauma that struck the remnants of the Nakba, the trauma was soon replaced by opportunism.

Seif el-Din el-Zoubi, volunteered with the Haganah and was a Member of Knesset for 20 years. The parties in which he ran were puppets of Mapai, just like he was. In his pocket he carried a business card he printed himself, proclaiming himself to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, but his actual career was far less respectable.

In the late 1970s, Shimon Peres also used to request that Arabs with kaffiyehs be brought to attend his meetings with statesmen from the Socialist International. It impressed the foreigners. It didn’t add any honor to Labor, or to the kaffiyeh-clad dignitaries.

Nor did it end there. Knesset after Knesset almost all lists, including Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud, are festooned with Arabs. Most of these figures turn out to be miserable caricatures. It is no coincidence that the most impressive Arab MKs, of which there were many, were always to be found on the non-Zionist side of the parliament.

From Emile Habibi, Tawfik Toubi, Tawfik Ziad and Azmi Bishara (who failed) through Ahmad Tibi, who has been standing out in particular lately, to Mansour Abbas, Aida Touma-Sliman and Ayman Odeh, these are some of the most impressive elected officials, the best MKs, more so than most of their Jewish colleagues. It is hard to think of Zionist Arab MKs who have reached the same level.

The contradiction is inherent. There is no way to bridge it, despite all attempts to do so. The Arabs who join right-wing parties are nothing but clowns disgracing themselves; those who join the Zionist left do not know its true DNA.

From Mapam and Meretz, through Labor in all its iterations and the center parties, they have never abandoned the idea of Jewish supremacy over Arab citizens as a way of life, and the hallowing of the military and its worship as an ultimate virtue. Even when they wax poetic about equality, justice, and peace, and perhaps even meaning it, the glass ceiling of Zionism remains, and they’ll never break it. Under this ceiling, there is no place for Arabs.

Rinawie Zoabi will soon be forgotten, in Shanghai or in Nof Hagalil, but the lesson of her brief political career must be taken to heart by Israel’s Arabs: Either Zionism, or honesty.

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