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A 'Good Girl' and a Rebel, Two Female Arab Lawmakers Are Unlikely to Make It Back Into the Knesset

חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli
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Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi votes against applying Israeli law to West Bank settlements, in the Knesset, in June.
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi votes against applying Israeli law to West Bank settlements, in the Knesset, in June.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
חנין מג׳אדלי - צרובה
Hanin Majadli

Take Ibtisam Mara’ana and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, for instance – Arab female Knesset members from left-wing Zionist parties, the Labor Party and Meretz, respectively. They followed opposite paths in their short political careers, but the outcome is expected to be similar: You’re out.

Mara’ana took the seventh slot in last year’s Labor Party primary, and was immediately attacked over her past opinions. A 2013 Facebook post was dredged up: “I didn’t stand for the Memorial Day siren, I was driving while nearly the entire country stood at attention. I decided to keep moving.”

The aggressive attack, which included asking the Central Elections Committee to disqualify her candidacy, forced her to express regret for the post, to go on the defensive and to ask for the forgiveness of bereaved families.

More important, the blow she took right at the start led her to keep her head down during the entire legislative session. Mara’ana, who was familiar to Arab Israelis as the director and host of the local, Arabic-language version of “Sorry for Asking,” slipped off the public’s radar.

A combative and outspoken character, with a clear and unapologetic voice against the occupation, someone who knew how to say “apartheid” loudly, who came out against the patriarchy, the “male terror” in her words and who opposed societal and traditional norms in Arab society, became a “good girl.”

It was no coincidence that her work in the Knesset focused on issues affecting foreign workers, refugees, women in prostitution, Arab LGBTQ people, abused women, etc. These are obviously important issues, but they are also ones that do not evoke opposition or irritate the ultra-nationalist Jews who had targeted her.

The pinnacle of “niceness’ came toward the end of last week’s Gaza operation. After a long silence, she tweeted: “I contacted dozens of [Israelis] in the Gaza [border area] and wished them well, expressing my hope that this period passes quickly. I told them that even these days it’s important to believe that there still is a chance for a better future, a future of peace.”

Mara’ana had to relinquish important parts of her identity in order to keep the peace and avoid a giant headache for Labor Party chair Merav Michaeli. The result: She is unlikely to make it into the next Knesset, after dropping to eighth place on the party’s slate in Tuesday’s primary.

Rinawie Zoabi is the opposite case. Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz recruited her for the slot of “Arab woman,” and as one who has held senior positions in Israeli civil-society organizations, including in the Arab community. Ostensibly, a perfect match. Someone who appears to be secular, with open and liberal feminist and social agendas, who would be able to identify with the slogan “love is love,” who looked like an ad for Meretz, Arab community branch, slightly more than Esawi Freige.

But then something interesting happened. Rinawie Zoabi, who was more connected to the community she came from than Mara’ana was to hers and who wanted to deal with issues that are important to Arab society and to show some real achievements, refused to fall into line with the LGBTQ agendas of Meretz or its turn to the right as a member of the governing coalition.

She rebelled against convention and nearly brought down the governing coalition. Meretz didn’t know what to do with the opinionated lawmaker they had brought in as a fig leaf, proceeding to dissociate from her. The dissociation was extreme, with the party base coming out against her, with everyone explaining politely who is the slave and who the master, suggesting that she look for a place in the United Arab List.

To sum up: One Arab woman kept her head down and left, another lifted up her head and left. The conclusion: Stay down or rise up, either way you’re out.

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