Jewish-Arab partnership as an antidote to Jewish supremacism

We need to redefine Israeli politics. No more left and right, liberal or conservative, religious versus secular. Instead: a new partnership of Arabs and Jews, working side-by-side to combat Jewish supremacism.

By Meron Rapoport and Ameer Fakhoury

A Jewish Israeli man holding an Israeli flag confronts a Palestinian woman holding a kaffiyeh on the sidelines of the ultra-nationalist “Jerusalem Day” march, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Jewish Israeli man holding an Israeli flag confronts a Palestinian woman holding a kaffiyeh on the sidelines of the ultra-nationalist “Jerusalem Day” march, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel has been at a political dead end for many months, particularly since the most recent national election in September. The outgoing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has only 55 of the 61 mandates required to form a governing coalition. Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White party, says he wants to form a “liberal unity government” with Likud and Avigdor Liberman, but he, too, lacks the necessary 61 seats, and thus far he has not succeeded in detaching any of the 55 mandates from Netanyahu’s bloc. Lieberman is determined to take Netanyahu down, but if he were to join a center-left coalition, he would torpedo the political career he built on far-right secular nationalism and hatred of Arabs. So, he is sitting on the fence.

The only way out of this paralysis is a minority government coalition composed of Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, and the Democratic Camp, with the support of the Joint List — and without Liberman. Blue and White, however, is not quite ready for this move. Nor are its potential political allies prepared to bridge the gaps between their disparate views. 

This situation encapsulates the argument for creating a new political movement that is based on shared values. Instead of continuing to define as right or left, liberal or conservative, religious or secular, we need a political and civil society partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel who share a commitment to combating Israel’s greatest national threat: Jewish supremacism.

This Arab-Jewish partnership need not be connected to any single political party. All its potential adherents would need is a shared understanding that a truly democratic government and an end to the conflict requires equal citizenship for Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, and that a political partnership between the two peoples will have a mobilizing influence both on Israel and on the entire region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

Given today’s political map, such a movement could be represented by a partnership between the Joint List, Labor-Bridge and the Democratic Camp. There are significant ideological differences between each of these parties, but they all share the view that equal rights for all Israeli citizens is a crucial issue, and that securing those rights can only be achieved through some type of cross-party political partnership.

There are 24 mandates in the current Knesset that would potentially be amenable to a partnership, and that number could grow. Voter turnout among Arab-Palestinian citizens increased in recent election cycles, going as high as 59 percent. Turnout for local elections goes as high as 85 percent. If Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel were convinced that there was a true Arab-Jewish partnership committed to equality for all citizens, the turnout could rise even further. Potentially, a coalition of parties that share the commitment to combating Jewish supremacism could have 30 seats in the Knesset.

Partnership does not prescribe the merging — or erasure — of the two distinct national groups in Israel into one. However, it must establish an equitable foundation for both, as collectives and as individuals, in which neither group has superiority over the other. This partnership is based on a recognition that both the Palestinian and Jewish citizens of this land are members of co-nations.

The discourse around this partnership should not be limited to ethical questions. Many Israelis, regardless of their political leanings, understand today that two nations exist in Israel. This is our reality. If the partnership movement realizes how to link its values to this reality, it might find supporters even unlikely places that seem far-fetched today. This will be challenging, but the need to confront rising anti-democratic trends might lead to crossing lines that previously seemed impossible.

A movement based on partnership between Arabs and Jews would set an aspirational standard for the entire region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Instead of fighting for a two-state solution divided by a hostile border, it would aspire to a border based on partnership — because a border that is created and maintained with hostility is demographically, geographically, economically, and emotionally impossible. 

According to long-held received wisdom, equal civil rights for Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel will only come after a two-state solution is negotiated and implemented. This, obviously, has not come to pass. The proponents of a new political movement based on partnership between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel believe the opposite — that the resolution to the conflict will come from Israel proper, within the Green Line, and will spread outward.

This civil partnership can also create a new political identity, which is predicated on a shared national sensibility. This does mean an erasure of national identity, but rather the birth of a collegial commitment to a shared nationality, of two national groups that take pride in their respective identities but understand that the best way to express their it is through a partnership between the two groups. Their shared goal: to combat Jewish supremacism, as Jewish and Arab co-nationalists.

Partnership is a political position that can inspire a new political identity which, in turn, can create the political force necessary for its realization. Liberalism and democracy are the pillars of this movement, but not the only ones. Particular national identity can also inform this movement, as long as it does not demand superiority.

This is not a melting pot movement. Rather, it is one of unity through partnership, while maintaining a respect for separate national identities. In the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, the real struggle is between Jewish supremacy and co-nationalism. Each and every one of us must choose a side.

Meron Rapoport is an editor at Local Call, where a version of this article first appeared in Hebrew. Read it here. Ameer Fakhoury is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and the head of the School for Peace Research Center at Wahat al-Salam-Neve Shalom. Both Fakhoury and Rapoport are members of the “A Land for All” movement.