Opinion

There's No Way Forward for Israel's Left Without the Arabs

A Hadash-Ta'al campaign billboard in an Arab neighborhood, April 8, 2019.
Gil Eliahu

Op-ed writers stretched their limbs in exhaustion and let loose: “We told you so.” We told you that you would reap great disappointment, after all a majority of the public is right-wing and its decorated soldier no longer heralds a new future. This soldier is not Ehud Barak or Gabi Ashkenazi, but Elor Azaria, who sentenced a wounded terrorist to death.

Yet the left-wing camp that shrank and the centrist camp that grew stronger never paid any attention to the trivial eulogies written about them. They went to battle. It was actually the Israeli center that showed its vitality. It fought against the lethal propaganda machine that spread lies and slander without pause, against a leader who received international honors and during a period of economic stability, satisfying the demands of the middle class.

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If we look at it from a close-up point of view, then this election campaign revolved around the question of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Yes or no. But from a broader perspective, it was a declaration of identity from the opposition camp. It is said that the right relies on emotional underpinnings, of which loving the leader and the feeling that it is necessary to “defend your home” play a central role. But the voters of the opposing camp have an emotional identity, too, focussed on the feeling of a having a mission, which can be summed up best by the Biblical verse: “So thou shalt put away the evil from the midst of thee.”

We do not need the learned opinion pieces to know that the demographic trends serve the right, religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox parties. Their power grows from election to election. This fact is what further strengthens the claim that the center and left cannot create any true change without cooperating with the Arabs.

In recent years, I participated in gatherings between Jews and Arabs, who tried to reach a formula that would lead to running together in the elections. All these attempts failed because of differences of opinion on the issue of the importance of the term “Jewish and democratic state.” It turns out that running together requires reaching an agreement on such topics as changing the national anthem, revoking the Law of Return and reducing the space held by Zionism as a fundamental and formative value. I don’t think it’s possible or that it is the right thing to do.

Still, a clear majority of Israeli Arabs prefer Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi to Netanyahu and Yariv Levin, but they will continue to stay home and not go out and vote if Kahol Lavan and the left-wing Zionist parties do not campaign for the legitimacy of the Arab position in a Jewish and democratic Israel. Changing the nation-state law must be a supreme goal in the process of building trust between the center-left and the Arabs. We must fight against it, and against their exclusion in general. At the same time, the Arabs must accept the definition of Israel as a democratic state, with a Jewish majority.

Many will say a political alliance with the Arabs is a clear recipe for failure for the Jewish public. But this is exactly the goal of winning hearts and minds. I am not looking for understanding from Miri Regev and Bezalel Smotrich, but from the sort of people who want to bring down the corrupt kingdom that rules here.

If the Arabs vote with similar turnout to that of the Jews, a revolution is possible. Netanyahu and his partners, in their shameful yet successful campaign, have wisely learned to understand that they must reduce the number of Arab voters in any way possible, and they did so this time by ignoring all the accepted standards for running a democratic election.

Netanyahu remains prime minister and this is an impressive accomplishment. The demographic conditions were on his side, but they can serve the other side, too: A clear alliance of interests between the Arab community and opponents of the right can bring about a change in government.