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To give up on Jewish-Arab partnership is to give up hope

Most of the people in this land are victims of the Netanyahu government. Partnership between them is the only way to fight its various forms of oppression — including the occupation.

By Nisreen Shehada and Alon-Lee Green

Activists hold a mock separation wall during a protest against the occupation on the West Bank's main Jerusalem-Hebron highway in full view of Israeli settlers, Beit Jala, West Bank, February 5, 2016. (Activestills)

Jewish and Palestinian activists knock down a mock separation wall during a protest against the occupation on the West Bank’s main Jerusalem-Hebron highway, Beit Jala, West Bank, February 5, 2016. (Activestills)

It’s so easy for those in positions of privilege to criticize any action taken by people doing work on the ground as “not radical enough” and to look at the world through a cynical and despondent lens. From that comfortable perch, it’s no wonder that in their recent article, “Let’s stop talking about a false ‘Jewish-Arab partnership,’” Rami Younis and Orly Noy chose not to see real opportunities — and to not believe in change.

We, on the other hand, know that there is hope. We haven’t given up on this place and we haven’t despaired of the people living here. Optimism is a political position.

There are two aspects of Younis and Noy’s article that should be praised. Firstly, even talking about Jewish-Arab partnership, one of the most important political matters to take into consideration these days, is praiseworthy. Secondly, by insisting on separating Arabs and Jews, they unwittingly demonstrate exactly how the right in Israel has maintained its power with its divide-and-conquer strategy and by driving a wedge between Arab and Jewish social struggles.

Their point of departure sidesteps the question of how to achieve change in this land — and who has an interest in achieving it — and is what leads them to the mistaken conclusion that Jewish-Arab partnership is unnecessary.

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In the footer of the original Hebrew article, Rami Younis describes himself as a “not nice Arab who believes that Jews need to support Palestinian struggles” and Orly Noy describes herself as “a self-hating Jew who believes that Palestinians must lead their struggles themselves.” Beyond the attempt at humor, the crank bios reveal the pair’s underlying assumptions: the Arab-Palestinians living here have legitimate struggles but Jewish Israelis don’t (and if they do, they aren’t important enough or radical enough). But you can’t push aside the legitimate struggles of underserved neighborhoods and cities, of women, of Mizrahi Jews, of the disabled, public housing, the Ethiopian community, asylum seekers, and others. You can’t write off entire communities and simply declare that they are a part of a “destructive and violent majority.”

What’s more, by erasing all of those communities’ struggles and lumping them in with a “destructive and violent majority,” Younis and Noy are suggesting that the majority of Jewish Israelis vote for the right simply because they are racists trying to protect their privilege. In short, Younis and Noy think that Jewish Israelis are shitty people. We at Standing Together believe that the current right-wing government and the people who live in this land have diametrically opposed interests, and that it is the left’s role to show just how harmful the government’s policies are — and to organize the struggles against those institutions and their policies.

Arab and Jewish citizens protest racial profiling at the entrance to Barzilai Medical Center, January 20, 2019. (Courtesy of Standing Together)

Arab and Jewish Israeli activists from Standing Together carrying out a civil disobedience action protesting racial profiling on buses at the entrance to Barzilai Medical Center, January 20, 2019. (Courtesy of Standing Together)

The right’s economic policies consistently harm workers and weaker population segments, proven at least in part by the series of social protests in Israel over the years. The right’s social policies disregard the views of the majority of the public; this past year alone, those policies led to mass protests over violence against women and LGBTQ rights. The right manages to stay in power not by improving the lives of its voters but by attacking the Arab-Palestinian national minority in Israel. Incitement to racism, among other things, is the right’s way of hiding the fact that it hasn’t improved the lives of those who vote for it.

The way to fight Netanyahu is two-fold: show how his economic policies harm the broader public; and fight both his incitement to racism against Palestinians in Israel and Israel’s continued military control of the Palestinian territories. From Younis and Noy’s writing, it’s safe to assume they believe that the struggles for affordable housing, feminism, workers’ rights, and equality for Palestinians inside Israel are all secondary to the struggle to end the occupation. We think differently.

The majority of the people in this land is harmed by the government’s policies. Jewish-Arab partnership is the way to fight those various forms of oppression, including ending the occupation. Since its founding, we at Standing Together have always believed it is both possible and necessary to work for Israeli-Palestinian peace alongside struggles for social justice and equal civil and national rights. On every front of that struggle we insist on working together on the basis of shared interests.

African asylum seekers and human rights activists, including Standing Together members, protest against deportation of asylum seekers at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

African asylum seekers and human rights activists, including Standing Together members, protest against deportation of asylum seekers at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

We take that approach with a full appreciation for the fact that different groups in Israeli society suffer from exploitation, discrimination, and oppression in different ways. Arab-Palestinian citizens aren’t just harmed more severely by the right’s socioeconomic policies, they are also discriminated against on the basis of their national identity: racist legislation specifically targets the Arabic language and culture and the legitimacy of Arab political participation. That was articulated most poignantly by the Jewish Nation-State Law, which subverted the principle of equality and legislated Palestinian citizens of Israel into second-class status.

There is no symmetry between the lived realities of Jews and Arabs in Israel. But the right in Israel survives precisely by turning that asymmetry into a barrier for anyone interested in effecting change. It becomes particularly effective when the right systematically stokes the fears of Jewish Israelis, suggesting that Palestinian national and cultural symbols embody a desire to “throw the Jews into the sea.” That is how the right manipulates national Palestinian symbols, particularly the Palestinian flag and Nakba Day.

Notwithstanding the inherent complications and power relations of any Jewish-Arab partnership in a society as segregated and polarized as ours, we believe that such a partnership is the only way to advance an alternative and change our reality. Yes, it is a challenge. It is not easy to achieve equality within a joint political framework, as Noam Sheizaf wrote. But we in Standing Together choose to face those challenges every single day of the week. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes not so much. But we do not give up, we do not give in to despair, and we do not stop trying.

Standing Together activists and members of other left-wing groups protest outside of Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters following Israel's deadly response to protests in Gaza. April 1, 2018.

Standing Together activists and members of other left-wing groups protest outside of Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters after Israeli troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in Gaza, April 1, 2018.

Younis and Noy write in their article that the Arab members of Standing Together don’t really believe in Jewish-Arab partnership — that they only say they do to placate the privileged Jews in their midst. By writing that, they diminish the contributions of the Palestinian members of Standing Together — partners in the movement’s leadership who set its agenda, work to promote the interests of the Arab-Palestinian public in Israel, and who sometimes pay a personal price for their leadership. More tragically, by attacking Standing Together, Younis and Noy only strengthen the right’s argument, according to which those Palestinians who say they want to live peacefully alongside Jewish Israelis are actually lying.

These are our beliefs and we really believe in them. We believe that the right’s policies harm Arab families more than Jewish families and that that harm has historical roots. We also know that Jewish-Arab partnership is the way to fight for the rights of all of those families, Jewish and Arab alike, and to ensure that they all can live together in this land. Those are our values. That is our theory of change. That is the source of our hope. We believe in the path we have chosen and we are building a broad movement — Jewish, Arab, and socialist — to bring about fundamental change in the society, economy, and politics of Israel.

Nisreen Shehada and Alon-Lee Green are members of Standing Together’s leadership. A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lewis from Afula

      But we only just had the elections.
      Their outcomes and logical conclusions were quite clear to anybody with a brain of his / her own.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: The logical conclusions are indeed clear.
        Outgoing French ambassador to the U.S. calls Israel an apartheid state:

        They have the West Bank, but at the same time they don’t have to make the painful decision about the Palestinians, really making them really, totally stateless or making them citizens of Israel. They won’t make them citizens of Israel. So they will have to make it official, which is we know the situation, which is an apartheid. There will be officially an apartheid state. They are in fact already.

        https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/04/conversation-outgoing-french-ambassador-gerard-araud/587458/

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          HAHA….Their Ambassador should be worrying about the demographic implosion occuring in France. Some 10,000 French troops now patrol the streets of Paris. Over 25% of all 19 year old French citizens are now Muslim !!

          Ref: Islamization and Demographic Denialism in France
          by Michel Gurfinkiel. Middle East Forum. March 14, 2016

          Original data published in L’Obs (A leading liberal news magazine), research conducted by French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).
          Ces collégiens qui placent la religion avant l’école : l’étude qui accuse. 3rd Feb 2016

          Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            @ Lewis : Please stop your fake news !!
            I’ve checked the original article, and the purpose of the study is absolutly not about counting the number of muslim people in France !!! This study is about how the religion can affect the identy and the vallues.

            This study has been made in “Bouche du Rhone”, Marseille with a high (and old)algerian diaspora that doesn’t represent at all the French demography. Again, it was not a study for counting the muslim people in France, they have already statistic (about 6%-8% of the french population).

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Tom – The 9000 student study was demographically & statistically validated by CNRS. This is the National Center for Scientific Research. This is the premier scientific organization in France (equivalent to NIH) which deals, amongst other things, with the functioning of human societies.

            To claim that this study reported in a French mainstream left-liberal magazine is “biased” really takes the biscuit.

            Your final claim that French Muslims are 6%-8% of the population is another red herring. 1. There are only a handful of ethnic studies since these are generally banned under French law. The number of Muslims has been judged from anything from 5% to 15%.
            2. In anycase, the % of Muslim youth will be MUCH HIGHER than that in the total population because of the much higher Muslim birth rates.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tom

            @Lewis : I didn’t say the study is biased, and I don’t have any problems with the result (yes the religion has a strong impact on the identity, for christian and even more for muslim teanagers).

            What you don’t understand (maybe learn some french), is that this study has been made in a region with is a hight diversity rate among religions, I guess it’s because it’s more statically revealing to compare religion identity feeling with a 25% muslim teanager pannel, than in a french countryside with few muslim and jewish people.

            Again censing muslim student was not AT ALL the purpose of the study !!!! so don’t spread fake news by changing the conclusion and the purpose of it.

            Regarding the actual demographic studies, I have checked all the existing studies and never found any estimation beyond 9%. So please give us your link.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Chaz Hoosier

      Now that any hope of a Palestinian state is gone, full rights for all residents of Israel is the only hope for peace left.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sheldon Ranz

        “Now that any hope of a Palestinian state is gone…” Why? Because Bibi is still in power? What makes you think he is more likely to support a One State ‘full’ democracy? If he’s against one, he is equally against the other. To be consistent, one can argue that there is no hope, period.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tommy Goldberg

        Stop with the “peace” talk; that’s the wrong framework too. You can have peace when you kill all your enemies (or frogmarch them all to Jordan, which is what the slightly more hard-line Jewish supremacists are dreaming about.)

        Palestinians aren’t fighting for peace; they’re fighting for freedom and equality.

        Reply to Comment
        • Chaz Hoosier

          It of course goes without saying that ANY real peace will be founded on equal rights and freedom for all people.

          Reply to Comment
          • Tommy Goldberg

            No, unfortunately this does not go without saying. Jared Kushner is peddling a “peace plan” essentially based on the notion of comfortable bantustans right now.

            One might say that EVERY peace plan even remotely entertained by any Israeli government was based on cementing inequality. In fact, peace based on equality is a very novel concept in Israel-Palestine, at least as far as the Israeli-Jewish conversation is concerned.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Tommy Goldberg

      No. Just no.

      No successful civil rights struggle has ever been about “partnership” instead of fighting for the rights of oppressed people.

      The fight for women’s suffrage wasn’t about partnership between men and women. Martin Luther King didn’t lead a “partnership” movement. The struggle for marriage equality wasn’t about straight–gay partnership. And those are just American examples. The ANC certainly wan’t a whites-blacks partnership organization.

      Now, the ANC and all those American movements has white and straight ALLIES, but that’s quite a different story.

      And it doesn’t mean that intersectionality can’t and shouldn’t play a role in the struggle. But partnership can’t be the starting point.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Tommy Goldberg

      If Germans could go from almost unquestioningly supporting Hitler to signing on to the first precursor of the European Union in less than six years, anything is possible.

      Yes, today most Jewish Israelis either outright support or at least don’t oppose their country’s apartheid regime. But that’s because the status quo has been very comfortable. If and when the situation changes, so will people’s minds.

      In the U.S. in 2004, maximalist opposition to same-sex marriage was a sure election winner. Virtually no politician who had to win a statewide electorate dared support marriage equality. Long after his first election in 2008, President Obama didn’t dare come out in support. Today marriage equality is the law of the land, from coast to coast and hardly even controversial anymore.

      So things do change. One thing I can see changing very quickly regarding Israel–Palestine is the huge sea change among American Democrats. Where reflexive, unquestioning support for whatever Israeli government was a must-tick box for virtually every Democratic candidate for president as recently as 2016 (Bernie Sanders’ Jewishness gave him a little leeway, but not much), the opposite will be true in 2020. You can bet that most, if not all, major Dem candidates will support a “state of all its citizens” within a civil rights-framework.

      And with the next Democratic president elected by that party, things will be REALLY different.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lewis from Afula

      The slightly Left-leaning Vox Magazine published a French survey in 2014. It was ran by ICM Research. People were asked whether they have a positive or negative image of the Islamic State (then in Syria & Iraq).

      16% of French people had a favurable view of it.
      Assuming that all these people are Muslim, that means AT LEAST 16% of French citizens are Muslim.

      If 16% of the General population are Muslim, much higher percentages are expected in the younger population cohorts due to the differences in fertilities.

      Tom, is this survey inaccurate too ?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: So the outgoing French ambassador to the U.S. says that Israel is already an apartheid state, and now we’re discussing the percentage of Muslim young people in France? Huh?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is absolutely the crudest attempt at distraction and diversion, to get us all inanely arguing about French Muslim population statistics as if this is why Israel’s apartheid state must continue. Utterly inane.

        Bruce is in fact talking precisely about denialism. Your denialism, Lewis, about apartheid. Your bogus, not to say moronic, solution to France’s current problems, if we transfer your bizarre Israel/Palestine problem logic to it, would be to recommend France forcibly mass transfer French Muslim citizens to North Africa and reoccupy Algeria. And call them Fakealgerians. Or something similar. It’s bogus. And evil. You never wanted to share the land and the very last thing you want is peace, justice and equality. Peace-seeking Muslims are your worst nightmare. You fool no one with this shallowest of demagoguery.

        Reply to Comment
      • john

        100% of french people are french, including muslims. it is indeed a strange way to distract from israeli apartheid by focusing on ‘fertilities’ of other countries.

        this obsession with birth rates and demographic purity is shared with white supremacists the world over, as is the wish to ‘repatriate’ muslims (who can’t assimilate, and jews, who you’ve said shouldn’t assimilate).

        Reply to Comment
      • tom

        @Lewis, This study has been ordered by a russian propaganda press agency, and has been discredited by a lot of journalists ans serious statiticians.
        https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/15-des-francais-soutiennent-l-etat-islamique-un-etrange-sondage-venu-de-russie_1568756.html (from a right wing french newspaper)

        BUT Even IF this study is a serious one, it doesn’t show than 15% of french people are muslim, only than 15% of french people are stupid or don’t know ISIS…

        AGAIN all the demographic studies that have been made show that there is less than 10% of french people muslim

        Reply to Comment
      • Tom

        @Lewi, You’re talking about a study that was financed by a russian propaganda media, and that was tottaly discredited at that time by a lot of media and Survey specialist. Check the link below (from a right wing newspaper, in french sorry)

        https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/15-des-francais-soutiennent-l-etat-islamique-un-etrange-sondage-venu-de-russie_1568756.html

        And even if this “Survey” is true, it doesn’t prove than you have 15% of muslim (what is the link please, obviously you have a very narrow logic) but only that 15% of french people doesn’t have a bad oppinon on ISIS (probably 15% of french people is stupid and did not understand the question).

        Reply to Comment
    6. Lewis from Afula

      Dear All:
      I now understand that I was being acting paranoid before.
      The fact that 16% of French citizens support ISIS and that 10,000 soldiers patrol the steets of Paris is frankly irrelevant.

      Nothing to see here, move along now.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Poor little Lyudovic from Afula, Russian disinformation and distraction enthusiast. Nobody understands him. Cheer up, I’m sure there are plenty of people in Trump and Netanyahu Campaign Headquarters who understand you.

        Reply to Comment
      • john

        from the same 5 yr old ‘survey’, 85% of gazans have unfavorable views of isis, 62% of french have unfavorable views. gazans are better neighbors than french folks, if that’s the measure.

        Reply to Comment
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