No matter what happens on election day, or what kind of coalition is formed afterwards, the Joint List’s very existence has already changed the face of Israeli history.
The fact that the Joint List is likely to be the third largest slate in the next Knesset means they cannot be ignored. All the Israeli papers, analysts and news broadcasters are suddenly forced to relate to “the Arabs” — the 20 percent of the population that are normally out of sight and mind when Israelis goes to the polls.
It was both groundbreaking and satisfying to see Joint List chair Ayman Odeh’s face alongside those of Netanyahu, Bennett, Herzog and Liberman on the Friday evening news. It may not seem like a big deal, but this alone is a game changer.
The very fact that mainstream Israel is forced to look at and hear an Arab politician on “their” television channel is unprecedented, and a much-deserved slap in the face to all the right-wing party leaders who have at best ignored and at worst directly incited against Palestinian citizens of this country. Never mind the fact that almost all the media outlets refer to the Joint List incorrectly as “the United Arab List,” the “Joint Arabs List” or just “the Arabs.” In truth, the very fact that they must now mention them at all is significant.
As Odeh pointed out in several recent interviews, his constituents are a natural and integral part of the Israeli landscape. In many of the interviews I have seen, the hosts have asked him a variation of, “What is it like to go from being anonymous to the leader of the third most popular slate overnight?” Odeh always answers that he is in fact very well known on the Arab street, as he has been active in politics for the past decade.
As far as I can recall, this is the first time Palestinian citizens of Israel have a presence in the election cycle and thus a presence in the Israeli discourse. Regardless of how many seats they end up getting or their role in the upcoming government — this is already revolutionary.
One example of how the Joint List seems to be pushing Palestinian citizens to vote is a video by Tamer Nafar from the Palestinian hip hop group DAM, in which he repeatedly says, “I’ve never voted before in my life,” but that this time, he won’t boycott the election, “From Tira, to Taybeh, to Ramle to Akko to the Galilee, with one voice, from Haifa, Nazareth, Negev, Jaffa, Wadi Ara, Lod and Sakhnin, I’ve never voted in my life but I hope to see you on March 17.”