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Vote for Arab-Jewish parties, or don't vote at all

Just as an American wouldn’t imagine voting for a party that does not accept blacks, progressive Israelis should only consider voting for parties that challenge the separation between Palestinian and Jews.

MK Mohammad Barakeh (left), MK Hanna Sweid and MK Dov Khenin (second from right) of Hadash party, at a protest in Jerusalem against the JNF-KKL involvment in the repeated demolishes of Al-Arakib Bedouin village (photo: Hadash / CC BY-NC 2.0)

This is a translation, with minor changes, of my weekly column for Time Out Tel Aviv. The Hebrew original can be read here.

A couple of weeks ago, the Knesset’s Central Elections Committee forbade media outlets from referring to Hadash, Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al as “Arab parties” in their polling results, and called on outlets to refer to each party individually. Nobody would think to publish a poll in which United Torah Judaism and Shas appear in one column as “the ultra-Orthodox,” but all the Hebrew papers, including Haaretz, have reached the conclusion that it is okay to treat Arabs as one bloc – despite the fact that the difference between the religious Ra’am and the socialist Hadash is way bigger than the one between Naftali Bennet of the Jewish Home and Likud.

This is but a symptom of a national problem. In almost 65 years, no government has ever included one of the Arab parties in the coalition, and there has only been one Arab minister in history. The Jews in Israel have grown to see the Arabs as people whose share in the state is always in question, whose citizenship is never secured, whose status should always be lower and who altogether needs to thank the majority for being allowed to live here.

The left and the center are to blame for this state of affairs even more than the right. After all, it was never a secret that the right sees Israel as a state for Jews only. Racism was always the main course for them, not just the sauce. But those who legitimized the discrimination are the liberals from the left and the center, who religiously followed the idea of “a Zionist coalition” (code name for Jewish-only), and have always emphasized the abyss that lies between them and the Arabs. Lieberman was okay for them, but Hadash wasn’t – despite the fact that the left’s values should be much closer to Ahmad Tibi’s or to those of Balad, which was, by the way, the first Israeli party to reserve one-third of its Knesset representation for women, to note just one example.

In fact, the only time the left and the center parties pay any attention to the Arabs is before the election, when everyone complains about the low turnout among Palestinian citizens, diminishing the chances of the so-called “peace camp” to secure a majority against the right-Orthodox bloc. With such an approach, the only surprise should be that the turnout is not even lower.

Cooperation between Palestinian and Jews is by far the greatest, most important challenge in this country. Every element of Israeli life – from the education system to zoning plans – is constructed to promote ethnic separation, with politics being just the tip of the iceberg. But despite the fantasies of many people, both populations will continue to live here, side by side, for many years to come. Therefore, the ability to create joint structures and partnerships is the single most important element that would determine the chances of survival and the quality of life for the entire society.

The necessary conclusion for me is that it is simply forbidden to vote for parties which are not shared by Palestinians and Jews, or for ones that preserve the policy of separation between Palestinians and Jews. There are no perfect parties, but this should be the basic condition, just as an American shouldn’t vote for a party that doesn’t accept black people. Therefore, in the coming elections, the parties to consider are Hadash, Da’am and Balad. The considerable flaws of each one of these parties are of less importance than the fact that they promote joint political action by Palestinians and Jews. Another non-Zionist Knesset faction, Ra’am-Ta’al, is a religious party, an ideology which, in my opinion, does not present a good base for long-term cooperation. Meretz has taken a major step forward by placing a Palestinian candidate at the fifth seat (which may get him into the Knesset), but it still carries a burden of proof on this issue. To the right of Meretz there is but a wide desert of racism and ethnic exclusion.

+972 Magazine elections coverage
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    1. Aaron Gross

      I thought mainstream parties like Labor and the Likud have “affirmative action” for Arab candidates: slots on their list reserved to Arabs. Wrong?

      Social discrimination, political equality. That’s what Hannah Arendt supported. Sounds good to me.

      Reply to Comment
      • Aaron,

        We should remember though that a problem exists in the fact that positive discrimination is still a form of discrimination in and of itself which is why quotas are a rather poor way to dupe the public and international community that a genuine cross-community atmosphere exists where in reality there is none.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          Sure, “corrective discrimination” (a translation of the Hebrew) is still discrimination. I’m just saying that the Likud traditionally runs a Jewish-Arab-Druze list, like Meretz. (Dunno about Likud Beitenu.)

          Following Arendt, I try to keep a sharp distinction between the political and social spheres. Arendt argued that discrimination is the essence of the social sphere, and that most definitely included ethnic discrimination.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Aaron Gross

      P.S. Good column. Thanks for translating it to English, for those of us who’d rather read English than Hebrew.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Re Meretz, it elected an Arab MK the first four times it ran, when it was winning 9-12 seats (1988 – Hussein Faris; 92 and 96 – Walid Haj Yahia; 99 – Hussniya Jabara (first Arab woman ever elected to Knesset). So I think Meretz is kosher/halal.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Thank you for this excellent article Noam Sheizaf.

      As I said on facebook, I am currently working on an article that will (hopefully) reflect my ideas on the need for creating a liberal cross-community alternative in Israeli politics.

      I’ve based the bold proposal on my experience as a member of a cross-community none-sectarian political party here in Northern Ireland where I’m sure many may be aware there exists a deeply divided society.

      I find the suggestions made in your article to be a very viable way forward in terms of Israeli politics. It really is refreshing to see an emphasis placed upon political parties that are Israeli – Palestine or ‘Arab – Jewish’ because it reflects a dimension of equality that I think is seriously lacking in Israeli political discourse.

      It gives both Jewish and Arab voters along with a wider range of minority groups more confidence in a possibility of a peaceful, shared future in Israel – Palestine.

      Bravo once again!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Uri

      You forgot to mention MK Hana Sweid in the picture, between Barakeh and Hanin

      Reply to Comment
      • Right. Corrected.

        Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      Noam! I’ve seriously been checking your 972 channel every few days to see if you’d written an election endorsement piece since I’ve learned everything I know about the Knesset’s system (if you will) on this election season, so you can only begin to imagine how enlightened I am by now ;). I’m pretty sold on Da’am because of Asma A-Z, but I want to add a few questions to this discussion. 1) I’d been thinking, while reading this excellent piece of yours, Can’t parties that aren’t specifically designated as arab-jewish have palestinian mk’s? and then you answered my question, as did @Larry Derfner. So just food for thought: If we’re voting only to endorse the togetherness, isn’t it more progressive of a party that doesn’t identify as “jewish” nor “jewish-arab” to have representatives of both on their ticket? I mean, wouldn’t we rather have Obama win on the democratic ticket than on the black-white ticket? I get that Israel hasn’t earned the right to post-anything-ism, but still… since this editorial is about the principal and not the particular parties or candidates, I’m not sure I agree. I do agree: Don’t vote for a party that has no Palestinians on their ticket. Thoughts? 2) On this I’m sure how I feel: Vote! I can’t stand hearing from so many brilliant people in this country that they aren’t voting or may not vote, and this is why: there is the illusion here that there is no Left. Also on principal: we need to show up and be counted. I’m willing to be counted on a ticket that may not make it into the Knesset, but I’m not willing not to be counted at all. Your vote is a We Are Here on a very shady map. *** Thanks again, Noam.

      Reply to Comment
      • AYLA

        ….shady map. (the end of my comment didn’t make it: Your vote is a We Are Here on a very shady map.

        Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        I read the article here by Da’am leader and I would advocate against it. This groups is below the threshold of being noticed that it is below the threshold. Thus having a separate election list makes no sense. A movement like that may join a larger party, to give an analogy, like Feiglinists joined Likud. Whatever you think about Feiglin ideology, he has sound tactics.

        Of course, the question is how “Leninists” is the structure of the party that could be joined by a movement. A Leninist party does not allow the newcomers to join in important decisions.

        Right now, I would advocate Balad on the account of a really cool video with Hatikva, and they are also narrowly shy of getting 4-th seat, thus a small number of extra votes can make a difference! Balad seems to represent an acceptance of Hebrew culture, secularism while maintaining Palestinian nationalism and it does not have a baggage of Marxist orthodoxy.

        But then, everybody either has some “baggage”, or is a naive novice.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Mikesailor

      Although I agree that for a ‘progressive Israeli’ voting for a political party of both Arabs and Jews makes sense, it ignores the infamous concept underlying the Israel experiment: the idea of a ‘Jewish’ state. In other words, you are advocating a modern democratic ideal while the majority of you countrymen are still stuck advocating an ethnocratic, almost theocratic, pseudo-democracy. If I read the platforms of the major ‘Jewish’ parties; Labor, Likud, even Meretz, they all seem still stuck in the mire of ethnocratic thinking and still view the idea of a ‘state for all its citizens’ as heresy if not outright treason.

      Reply to Comment
    8. sh

      “The considerable flaws of each one of these parties are of less important than the fact that they promote joint political action by Palestinians and Jews. Another non-Zionist Kensset fraction, Ra’am-Ta’al, is a religious party, an ideology which, in my opinion, does not presents a good base for long-term cooperation.”

      Joint political action by Palestinians and Jews seems to me to be the only way forward. But I don’t believe in excluding a party like Raam-Taal on the grounds that it is religious. Religious people from different faiths understand each other better than they do seculars and this place is steeped in religious connections that speak less to seculars and which they therefore tend to wave aside. (The settler core too, if anyone needed reminding, is religious and most Israelis, whatever their cultural provenance, have varying levels of emotional attachment to religious symbols.) Also, like Larry, I think Meretz is a worthy alternative although hopefully in future they will take more confident steps in becoming a party of all Israel’s citizens.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Jorge Goldfarb

      I tend to agree with Noam Sheizaf in that, quote:

      “Cooperation between Palestinian and Jews is by far the greatest, most important challenge in this country.” and that “the ability to create joint structures and partnerships is the single most important element that would determine the chances of survival and the quality of life for the entire society.”

      I said I ‘tend to agree’ because, if he were to change to ‘one of the most important challenges’ and to ‘one of the most important elements’, I’d be in full agreement. The need to avert the implementation of a bi-national state and to improve social justice are not less important.

      An outstanding example of “the ability to create joint structures and partnerships” has been shown over the years by the Hadash party. Notwithstanding the tensions between Arab and Jewish Israelis that became acute as a result of wars and bloody confrontations, that party has kept for more than 60 years faithful to the idea of political and social action carried out by both as equal members of a “joint structure”.

      Reply to Comment
    10. @aaron – I don’t believe the Likud has ever elected a a non Druze Palestinean. Please correct me if I am wrong

      @noam – Raam – Taal is a joint list of two factions. A marriage of convenience. I believe that only Ra’am is religious. Ta’al is not. Again, please, correct me if I am wrong.

      Reply to Comment
      • You are right. Ta’al (Tibi’s fraction) is not a religious party, but it’s impossible to vote for half the ticket and I don’t know of Jewish involvement in both fractions. Mada party is also part of Ra’am-Ta’al by the way.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Paul j

      Hadash – “Too Communist”
      Meretz – “Too Zionist”
      Balad – “Too Sectoral” (Balad describes itself as a ‘democratic progressive national party for the Palestinian citizens of Israel)
      Da’am – “Too small” Marxist?

      Still waiting for a centre-left Social Democratic-Liberal party that espouses equal opportunities for all.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Paul J

      Can anyone illuminate me on the primary differences between Hadash and Da’am?

      Reply to Comment
      • AYLA

        hi Paul, I want to reply precisely because I’m not expert, and I feel that expert responses often become really ideological or academic/ theoretical when we discuss the differences between parties. This year, Da’am, whoever they are, has put forth a truly fresh, amazing leader, Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka. I’d vote for her if she were with Meretz, I’d vote for her if she were with Hadash, and I’m going to vote for her with Da’am even though Da’am may not get seated (the primary reason I wish she were with Hadash, as it seems unrealistic, sadly, that a Palestinian MK would lead the Meretz ticket at this time so I mourn that possibility less). Check her out! The things she says shouldnt’ be considered revolutionary, but sadly, they are. She’s basically about social justice for all Israelis and ending the occupation, and isn’t afraid to link the two or make them both important for Israel (as this is, after all, an Israeli election for Israel’s sake). She doesn’t come from a place of anger, but, rather, a place of passion, and she believes what she says and doesn’t leave out issues in order to gain popularity (from Jews or Palestinians).

        Reply to Comment
        • Paul J

          Thanks Ayla. I just read this on Da’am website ….. “The Da’am Workers Party (DWP) here sets forth a program for revolutionary change in Israeli society, based on the principles of integration, equality, and social justice. We believe that these principles cannot be implemented under the regime of global capitalism. Their realization requires a socialist society which honors human welfare above profit”.

          Ok, perhaps I can forgive the soaring rhetoric under the circumstances. But I am an old fashioned Social Democrat. Genuine (economic) equality of opportunity is not “Revolutionary” for me. Language of “Regime of global capitalism” is however a tad off-putting. Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka is truly admirable. But perhaps what would be truly “Revolutionary” is a party that supports the messy pragmatism of social democratic/welfare orientated/free market economics, but one that speaks the soaring visionary language of social inclusion that genuinely is inclusive of all, Jews, Palestinians, Gays, Women, African Immigrants etc
          It may prove surprisingly popular. Pity it has never been tried.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jorge G.

            Paul J.: re., your question about the primary differences between Hadash and Da’am. In the relatively short history of the State we have had quite a lot of examples of parties that sprout shortly after the elections and vanish shortly after them. Many of them sponsored the most attractive electoral platforms. Hadash, (considered as a continuation of its maki predecessors) has been with us for quite a number of years while adhering to its basic tenets regarding upholding workers’ rights, democratic liberties and human rights, equality for the Arab minority, ethnic groups and women; this in parallel for its decided support for a two-state solution (the ICP was the first political party to incorporate that clause in its platform).
            Of course, it will be pretentious to forecast that Da’am will very likely not be with us after the next elections but I’d rather vote for Hadash, because it has shown its worth while pursuing its course in spite of having to face pretty hard tests since the establishment of the State.

            Reply to Comment
          • AYLA

            hi Paul. Good point about Da’am. I guess that 1) I’m not worried about them having so much power at this point to challenge capitalism in Israel… and 2) I’ve been following Asma A-Z for the past month or so — since my friends have started to post about her on facebook, honestly–and I’ve never heard her talk about marxist or communist economic views. In fact, everything she says (and I do believe in a free market) represents me, and does so much more strongly than any other party or candidate. So even if this is part of Da’am’s raison d’etre, I don’t think it’s a part of Asma’s core intentions. (I’m using her first name because it’s easier for me; sorry, women). What she’s trying to move forward so passionately speaks to me. If it doesn’t to you, I understand. But I wouldn’t be put off simply by Da’am’s old mission statement. I don’t hear it from her. And again, she’ll be lucky to get seated; no threat to capitalism (God forbid 😉 ). I want her in there.

            Reply to Comment
    13. XYZ

      A year ago, Avrum Burg was talking about setting up a “post-Zionist-non-Zionist-anti-Zionist” party that sounds like what you are all looking for. He said it was necessary because many who are “post-non-antis” were put off by HADASH’s Marxism.
      This never came happened. Why not?

      BTW-SH above mentioned what I have pointed out here in the past….that in reality, the religious Muslims have more in common, on a day-to-day level, with the Israeli religious Right and Haredim than they do with the Israeli secular Left/

      Reply to Comment
    14. Richard Witty

      Vote for the party that most accurately articulates your sense of priorities and efforts.


      Don’t be cowed by name-calling from either the left or the right.

      I personally was put off by a video of a Da’am speaker that spoke in terms of the “revolution”, in messianic terms.

      It surprised me that an agenda that sounded so realistically progressive would be framed in such religious terminology.

      One can value one’s participation in distinctly Jewish community and express that justly, kindly, progressively.

      There are many many more areas of commonality of Jews and non-Jews than distinction. There should be no threat implied.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Seth Morrison

      Labor currently has 1 Arab in the Knesset and 2 on the list for this election. Assuming that this is correct, shouldn’t they be included on this list of recommendations for progressives?

      Reply to Comment
    16. JKNoReally

      Actually, there is a party in America that is almost entirely white and takes no interest in ameliorating the separation of whites and blacks in terms of where they live (suburban v. urban), quality of schools, and quality of healthcare. Its called the Republican Party and about 1/2 of America vote for it. If we look at another American minority that is in some ways a better analogue, Native Americans, they’re not even on the radar, even for Democrats. 972+’s repeated attempts to paint Jewish Israelis as worse than Americans, in order to diminish Israel’s reputation in America, are not going to work, because its a stupid argument. Americans sympathize with Israelis’ situation vis a vis the Arabs, and, as colonizers themselves, will never take the +972 line against ZIonism. Stop wasting your time – this approach is beyond wrong, its dumb, and naive.

      Reply to Comment
      • Paul J

        Oh comon…get serious
        Outside Leftist-Marginal Academia, Neither Americans nor Non-Americans view US Citizens as Colonizers vis a vis Native Americans in same way they view the Israeli-Palestinians conflict..

        Native Americans are 0.2% of USA, Palestinians are 51% of Israel-Palestine (22% of Israel)..

        Meaningless comparisons…are just that, meaningless…

        Reply to Comment
      • AYLA

        JKNoReally–while I agree that the analogies break down, and that it’s hard to get american jews to get on board, if you’re trying to say that what Israel is doing to Palestinians is no worse than anything happening in the U.S. today, then you are sadly naive. I’m jewish and lived in the U.S. for forty years before moving her. Come take a closer look. In person. And 972 isn’t here to demonize Israel; 972 is here to try to get American Jews to care about what’s really happening in order to change what’s really happening, because that’s how much they care.

        Reply to Comment
    17. JKNoReally

      You misread me. I didn’t say that most Americans think of themselves as colonizers of Native Americans, I said they don’t think about it. But, IF you asked your ordinary American to compare themselves favorably to Israeli Jews, and they HAD to think about the Nakba, then they wouldn’t see as meaningful a difference between Manifest Destiny and Zionism as Noam would expect, or at least enough to change their opinion of Israelis, given our common enemies. Noam is trying to relate to Americans, but he doesn’t really understand them. He’s fumbling.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Paul J

      Hmm.. ok. Perhaps we saying the same thing from slightly different perspectives.

      And, yes (not popular to say) as a Non-Israeli living in Israel, Israelis tend to inflate their understanding of the psyche of Americans (indeed of any foreigner).
      A common characteristic of all nationalities you might say. Ideed – it is however a potential fatal flaw for Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Nosir

      Arabs needs to vote! This is a tremendously important election.

      Reply to Comment
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