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Where is the Palestinian candidate for Israel’s presidency?

When a minority consistently feels disenfranchised and excluded, it retreats from civil society. Now is the time to ensure that Israel’s Palestinian minority and its elected representatives no longer take that route – for the sake of all citizens.

By Ilan Manor

Following the shameful presidency of convicted rapist Moshe Katzav, most Israelis felt that only Nobel Prize laureate Shimon Peres could restore dignity to the office of president. In the past six-and-a-half years in office, Peres not only rehabilitated the presidency, he also revitalized it and its influence. There is no greater testament to his success than the fact that there are currently 11 candidates running to replace him when he steps down this July – more than in any other presidential elections in Israel’s history.

The gallery of presidential hopefuls is as diverse as it is large. It includes current members of Knesset such as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of Labor, Reuven Rivlin of Likud and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. There are also retired public figures, such as Dalia Itzik, who hope to stage a comeback via the presidency, and even a Nobel Prize laureate, Professor Dan Shechtman.

While the gallery of presidential hopefuls includes both young and old, men and women, Israeli-born tzabars and Russian immigrants, it does not include a single Palestinian-Israeli candidate. The absence of such a candidate is interesting given the fact that nearly 10 percent of current members of Knesset are from Arab parties, and that Palestinians constitute 20 percent of all Israeli citizens. Since the Knesset elects the president, a Palestinian-Israeli candidate would ostensibly poll in double digits from the very beginning of his or her campaign. Should such a candidate receive the support of Meretz, Israel’s largest left-wing party (which is unlikely to put forward a candidate of its own), they will have secured 17 votes – nearly 15 percent of the electing body.

Of course it is hard to imagine a Palestinian citizen being elected president in today’s political and social climate. But public figures often run for office not in order to win but in order to stimulate public debate over their status as minorities. Such a debate is crucial in Israel given the continuing exclusion of the Palestinian minority from Israeli society. Palestinian Israeli parties, for instance, have never been invited to serve in the government and the country has had only one Arab minister. Not only are Palestinian citizens excluded from the “start-up nation,” but Israel has never had an Arab celebrity judge on TV reality shows or as a major news anchor. These examples highlight the fact that the exclusion of this minority is not only political but also social, economic and most importantly, systemic.

The fact that Arab parties have decided not to put forward a presidential candidate – due to the frustration resulting in the unwillingness to participate in Israeli civil society – is telling. Such unwillingness is already visible at large in Israel’s Palestinian minority, which no longer comes out to vote in full force during general elections. As opposed to the general elections of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, in which over 70 percent of Arab citizens voted, since 2003 voter turnout has decreased to approximately 50 percent.

In the most recent elections, the Arab parties attempted to rally their constituencies and increase voter turnout. Their pleas did not help, nor did an appeal from the Arab League calling on Palestinian citizens of Israel to participate, in the hopes of facilitating a peace accord. In the end, only 57 percent voted. Nearly half stayed at home.

When a minority consistently feels disenfranchised and excluded, it retreats from civil society – Israel’s Palestinian minority has already done so. Perhaps now its political leaders are following suit. However, such retreats never last long; tensions continue to mount and violence soon erupts. The last time the Palestinian minority demanded its place in Israeli society, 13 people were killed by the police, including my friend and peace activist Asel Asleh.

Ensuring that Israel’s Palestinian minority and its elected representatives take an active part in civil society is in the country’s vital interest. Such participation would not only help prevent further violence but would also contribute to the successful growth and prosperity of all Israeli society. Only by inviting Palestinian Israelis to take part in society as equal partners and making the dramatic shift from systematic exclusion to inclusion can that be accomplished.

Ilan Manor is studying towards a Phd in Communication at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought Magazine. He blogs at www.ilanmanor.com.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that Israel has had one Arab minister, Raleb Majadele, who was science, technology, culture and sports minister from 2007 to 2009. We apologize for the mistake.

Read more:
For Arab citizens, Israeli government suffers from split personality
What it means to be a Palestinian immersed in Israeli society

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    1. Rehmat

      Shimon Peres is not a “dignified person” by any scale. Israeli author and muscian, Gilad Atzmon, has called Peres, “a war criminal”. Turkish prime minister Erdogan called Peres a “liar”.

      Last year, Yoav Yitzhak, at daily Maariv, revealed that Shimon Peres gave his Norwegian pal Terje Roed Larsen, the UN special coordinator for Middle East peace, $100,000 to secure him a Nobel Prize ….. the joke goes on!!!


      Reply to Comment
      • goldmarx

        Who cares what Gilad Atzmon thinks? He is a Holocaust denier and self-hating Jew who was kicked out of the BDS movement.

        Reply to Comment
        • Rehmat

          BTW – Where were you when Gilad Atzmon was among the Jewish army which invaded Lebanon?

          Gilad Atzmon is NOT a Holocaust denier. In fact, by uniting all Zionist Jews against himself – he has proved himself to be the “Promised Messiah”.


          Reply to Comment
        • JG

          Who care what you Dershowitz socket puppy thinks?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      I think most Palestinians have the good sense not to put themselves in a position where they would be constantly at risk of being assassinated.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      Israeli Arabs are welcome to integrate fully into Israel whenever they wish. That they continue to prefer to throw rhetorical rocks from the outside rather than integrate is entirely their problem.

      Also, I remember the last time, as you call it, Israeli Arabs demanded ‘its place in Israeli society’. That consisted of burning down the banks and the post offices, blocking traffic and throwing stones at Israeli police. It really comes as little surprise then that Israeli Jews felt little compassion for the ‘struggle’ of the Israeli Arabs.

      Reply to Comment
      • When young Israelis stormed banks and the Tel Aviv municipality during the J14 protests no shots were fired. When Ultra Orthodox Jews burn garbage bins and strike police officers in Jerusalem no shots are fired. Yet when Arab Israelis burn tires and protest, 13 of them die. And no one is found responsible. This really is the holy land, bullets fall from the skies.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          When young Israeli Jews “storm” banks and when Haredim burn garbage cans the police are not at risk of being lynched.

          When young Israeli Arabs declare the Israeli police officers as their enemy and start attacking them, it should come to no surprise that the police defend themselves.

          This is the same complaint that I hear about the actions of the IDF in the West Bank. Why, oh why, don’t they shoot the settlers? Well, it could be because the settlers are not the ones who make a sport of trying to injure or kill Israeli soldiers and police officers.

          Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        “Israeli Arabs are welcome to integrate fully into Israel whenever they wish.”

        Gee, how generous of you! For a minute there, I forgot that they have been begged by Israel for years to integrate.

        Here we are placing them under martial law for 20 years (for their own good, of course), and nothing – no thanks at all! And the treatment they get at the airport – to die for! And let’s not forget that their towns and villages are among the most developed in the country!

        They really are such ungrateful bastards, aren’t they?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          They are welcome to integrate. The door is open. That their elected political representatives insist on picking ideological fights with the state rather than working with it to improve the lives of their constituents is entirely their problem.

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            No, they’re not welcome to integrate. If most Israelis had their way, Israel’s Arabs would be driven out just like their grandparents were 66 years ago. Your attempt at hasbara is pathetic.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Israel is a democracy. If most Israelis had ‘their way’, then they would have already done whatever you are imagining they would do. Instead, the elected representatives of the Jews and the Arabs sit in the same house of parliament and Arabs are slowly but surely integrating into every sector of Israeli society. As inconvenient as these facts are for you, there are Arab MKs, there have been Arab ministers and there are Arab Supreme Court judges. So, I repeat, the Arabs are welcome to integrate.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Israel is a democracy. If most Israelis had ‘their way’, then they would have already done whatever you are imagining they would do.

            This is a creepy remark in itself. Is the govt. supposed to let the electorate decide through referendum if it should commit more warcrimes aimed at expelling the Arabs, or would Jewish Israelis just put in politicians who are bent on doing the job and pretend they were only following orders?

            Reply to Comment
      • Empiricon

        To paraphrase Kolumn9, sounds like a “moderate” white American circa 1965 (using the racial terminology of the time):
        “Negros are welcome to integrate fully into America whenever they wish. That they continue to prefer to throw rhetorical rocks from the outside rather than integrate is entirely their problem.

        Also, I remember the last time, as you call it, the Negro community demanded ‘its place in American society’. That consisted of burning down the banks and the post offices, blocking traffic and throwing stones at the police. It really comes as little surprise then that white Americans felt little compassion for the ‘struggle’ of the Negro.”

        Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      This is an absurd proposition, and the author knows it.

      Before something like this can become possible, Israel must undergo a thorough de-zionification, much in the same vain as the process that took place in South Africa in 1993.

      Until Israel sheds its racist ideology, no Arab can ever hope to penetrate the low (non-glass) ceilings placed upon him by the zionist system.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Inconvenient facts like these really kill the buzz. Were it to be pointed out that there were Arab Supreme Court justices, Arab Knesset members, and an Arab Minister, it really dents the whole narrative of systematic exclusion that 972mag likes to peddle.

        Reply to Comment
      • Oriol2

        Raleb Majadele was the first Sunni Muslim Minister, but I suppose Salah Tarif should also be considered an Arab, even if he doesn’t consider himself a Palestinian.

        Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser

      >it does not include a single Palestinian-Israeli candidate

      That is, probably, because there is no such species – “Palestinian Israelis”

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ken Kelso

      Any research will show that the people calls themselves “Palestinians” have the highest number of “Human Rights Activists” per capita and in the world.
      From Arafat, Sheik Yassin, Khaled Meshaal, through the suicide bombers to the members
      of the Hamas/Islamic Jihad – all are/were prolific “Human Rights Activists”.
      And ofcourse Jibril Rajoub who said, ‘If We Had a Nuke, We’d Use It this Morning against Israel.
      The only unexplained phenomena – Ilan Manor wants to be ruled by these people.

      Reply to Comment
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