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How the joint Arab slate challenges Israel's discriminatory politics

For the first time, the Knesset could have a sizable political bloc that is ‘100 percent for equality, 100 percent against occupation.’ The joint Arab slate should use this to not only challenge the right-wing’s discriminatory agenda, but to expose the center-left’s distorted idea of democracy. 

Last week, the four main political parties representing Palestinian citizens of Israel announced their agreement to run as a joint slate in the upcoming elections. Although there is popular support for the decision, Palestinian citizens are uncertain of what the slate can achieve. Personal conflicts, ideological differences and other disputes will make it difficult for the parties to stay together after the elections. Moreover, its members will still be attacked in the Knesset by right-wing parties such as Likud and Jewish Home, and will likely be ignored by the center-left “Zionist Camp” led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

‘Zionist Camp’ leader Tzipi Livni, December 10, 2014. (Photo by Activestills.org)

But despite the justified pessimism, a unique opportunity has emerged with the creation of the joint Arab slate. For the first time, the Knesset could have a sizeable political bloc that is “100 percent for equality, 100 percent against occupation.” The four Arab parties have always represented these views, but never as a single body with the potential to control nearly a dozen seats.

This development is significant since it not only challenges the right-wing’s discriminatory agenda, but also exposes the center-left’s distorted idea of democracy in Israel. Many in the international community believe that the “Zionist Camp” will diverge from the racist policies of the right-wing – both in relation to Palestinian citizens of Israel and to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this is hardly the case. The discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens, along with the occupation of the Palestinian territories, did not begin when the right-wing came to power. It is a systemic reality born out of Israel’s “Jewish state” mission since 1948, which grants Jews privileges and rights not afforded to non-Jews, while seeking to force indigenous Palestinians to accept their inferior, second-class status.

The center-left has been both an architect and accomplice to this system, including as coalition partners to Netanyahu’s governments in 2009-2012 and 2013-2015. The difference is that while the right-wing wants to make Jewish supremacy more explicit, the center-left conceals it in order to maintain Israel’s democratic image. This is why the center-left will publicly oppose “blatantly racist” legislation proposed by the right-wing, yet endorse subtler laws and government policies that essentially achieve the same objective. The center-left’s idea of democracy thus not only denies the Palestinians’ historical and collective rights in the land, but also contradicts the basic principle of civic equality for its citizens.

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against the Prawer-Begin Plan, BeerSheva, May 12, 2013 (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In view of this, the joint Arab slate represents the only multi-party bloc that is unequivocally committed to full equality, the end of the occupation and a just peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These are expressions of the landmark Future Vision Documents (including the Democratic Constitution), which were authored and endorsed by Palestinian citizen politicians, intellectuals, community representatives and civil society members. The slate’s candidates further attest to the bloc’s democratic vision and diverse representation, which includes Arabs and Jews, men and women, Marxists and nationalists, religious and secular, and others.

The joint slate is certainly not without its faults and shortcomings, and it will need to clarify and address many issues in order to play a crucial political role. These include meeting internal communal needs, such as greater representation of Arab women and youth, and external considerations, such as cooperation with parties like Meretz or even the center-left if it were to head the government. The slate would also need to mobilize an increasingly disenchanted Palestinian public to vote, and ensure that their collective interests as a national group are represented upon entering the Knesset.

But the Arab parties can still count their major achievement in the formation of a high-profile coordinated front to challenge the dominant political discourse in Israel, which makes a person’s rights conditional upon their ethno-national identity. If the Israeli electorate fails to recognize the inherently undemocratic and racist nature of that system, then at least it will be clear for the international community to see, and make the joint slate’s work all the more crucial.

Amjad Iraqi is a Projects & Advocacy Coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent Adalah.

More on the united Arab slate:
Arab parties announce joint slate for upcoming election
The Arab parties united? Great, now it’s time to get to work
+972 poll: Joint Arab list would raise voter participation

Special Coverage: 2015 Elections

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    1. Kolumn4

      Four parties are running on one slate and will break up again after the election. These parties had 11 mks before and will have 11 or 12 now with the same distribution among the parties. The only thing they can agree on is that they wish to undermine and overturn the Jewish state which the overwhelming majority of Israelis support. It is enough to bring communists, islamists, and arab nationalists into a joint list, but given that it is unachievable due to the wishes if the majority what would possibly keep such a list united? And given that these parties refuse to sit in any Israeli coalition and their numbers are going to stay basically flat then what would explain the stupid backslapping going on here?

      The only thing that has changed due to thus development is that Israeli Arabs no longer choose who gets elected and is forced to vote for politicians from rival parties. The mks are now decided before the elections through haggling between party hacks. Their choices are now to vote for a united Arab party while holding their noses, to not vote, or to vote for the national parties. The first two options will change nothing. No amount of bs puffery as attempted in this piece is going to change that and that means that over time the strength of the Arab party will pretty much inevitably drop.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        And is the proliferation of small and ephemeral political parties that are often the personal fiefdom of ambitious leaders something that is unique to the Arab sector? If Israel is ever to become a proper democratic state the instability and divisiveness of its political structure will have to be addressed. Unfortunately that won’t happen because in normal societies economic self-interest is the major driver of political affiliation and the oligarchy that controls the state prefers the divide-and-rule based on constant war-mongering and occupation rather than a state that serves the interests of its citizenry.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn4

          Economic self interest is not the major driver of political identification pretty much anywhere you silly antique communist.

          Reply to Comment
        • C.C. DeVille

          “the oligarchy that controls the state prefers the divide-and-rule based on constant war-mongering and occupation rather than a state that serves the interests of its citizenry”

          Nonsense.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      The Arab parties will never be able to exercise real political power in a “Jewish” state for the Zionists will never allow them standing within any coalition. They will always be second-class citizens for the heart of a racist state is to enforce the majority’s privilege. Which is why the latest pipe-dream of the Zionists is to annex the land without granting political rights to the Palestinians on the west Bank. Perhaps “wet-dream” would be a better description. What are the interests of the citizenry, Brian? To steal more land and maintain the disenfranchisement of at least 20% of the citizenry? Or over 50%? I keep hearing about how Zionism was a “necessity” but was it really? And if so, why does the brutalization and theft continue? Constant war-mongering is the glue that keeps Israeli Jewish society cohesive. That and a xenophobic racism which is endemic.

      Reply to Comment