Spitting in the face of Israel’s Arab citizens

The success of the Joint List is the Arab public’s message — an outstretched hand — to its Jewish compatriots, which is the antithesis of the message it received in return.

By Haggai Matar and Yael Marom

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)
Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

Nearly one quarter of Israeli voters cast their ballots for a prime minister whose central message to the public on election day was that Arab citizens of Israel are the enemy.

An almost equal number of people cast their votes for: the guy who joined him in delivering that message, the head of the most right-wing party in the Knesset (Naftali Bennett); the guy who based his entire campaign on incitement against Arabs (Avigdor Liberman); the guy who said he would not sit in a government that relies on the votes of Arabs (Moshe Kahlon); and, the guy who rejected an outstretched hand from the Arab parties offering to form an alliance of the oppressed (Arye Deri). Their levels of support are even higher if you look only at the Jewish voting public.

Meet the 34th government of Israel, ladies and gentlemen.

Do not discount the message delivered at the ballot box on Tuesday, especially considering the massive victory of the Joint List, the third-largest party in the next Knesset. With 14 seats representing over 400,000 voters, and with above-average voter participation, the success of the Joint List is the Palestinian public in Israel’s message to its Jewish compatriots, which was the antithesis of the message it got in return.

For weeks, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh has been all over Israeli television, radio, newspapers and every type of online media. He broadcast a message of openness, of partnership, of striving for equality, of democracy, of a struggle for social justice — for all Israelis. He spoke of reconciliation and of turning a new leaf.

Tuesday night, when Israeli television was busy interviewing every politician in the land, save for those gathered in Nazareth, long before there was a clear picture of the results, Odeh and MK Dov Khenin sent a message to Isaac Herzog. They told him they would recommend him as the next prime minister if he took them on as partners. It could have been historic.

Joint List MKs celebrate on election night, Nazareth, March 17, 2015. (Akron Darwishi/Activestills.org)
Joint List MKs celebrate on election night, Nazareth, March 17, 2015. (Akron Darwishi/Activestills.org)

That outstretched hand should not be taken for granted. These elections came after two years in which the Knesset did everything in its power to broadcast to the Arab public that it doesn’t deserve representation (from raising the electoral threshold to the attempted disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi). Even Yair Lapid and the Zionist Camp took part in that.

That outstretched hand should not be taken for granted after a summer in which Israel launched a war in Gaza and killed over 2,000 Palestinians. The same summer in which incitement by government ministers and members of Knesset against the Arab public reached new heights, in which we say waves of Palestinians being fired from their jobs, attacks on the streets, mass arrests of hundreds of protesters, among them children and public figures, of police shooting to death Arabs because they are Arabs. And all of that goes without mentioning the decades of home demolitions, land appropriations, discrimination in budgeting and much more.

If you take everything the Palestinian public in Israel has gone through, especially in recent months, and if you then look at the overwhelming vote for a message of hope and partnership espoused by Ayman Odeh and the Joint List — only then can you understand just how extreme the landscape has become. Only then can you see just how outstretched his hand was, and how ugly the spit directed at their faces was.

The answer to the 34th government of Israel must be an opposition that prioritizes Jewish-Arab partnership. It must be the project of the Left as it faces down what will likely be a large, murky wave of hostile and racist legislation and policies. Just as important, that partnership must be there to address the very real danger that the Palestinian public might simply give up on the Jews, for reasons that are understandable and even justified, instead choosing to disengage from the political system that spat in its face.

We must emphasize our work together, our joint struggle — our coherent opposition to the occupation and discrimination, to the corruption of politics, to the continued assault on whatever traces of democracy remain here. Get ready.

Yael Marom is Just Vision’s public engagement manager in Israel and a co-editor of Local Call, where this article was originally published in Hebrew.

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