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Why does the Israeli left oppose MK Haneen Zoabi?

The Zionist left doesn’t oppose Zoabi because of her controversial comments or her participation in the Gaza flotilla. It opposes her because she calls for full equality.

(Translated by Sol Salbe)

Last week Haaretz columnist Ravit Hecht wrote that any true leftist ought to oppose Haneen Zoabi. True, Hecht did concede that the question “is not a legal question but a moral one”; that is, she recognizes Zoabi’s right to continue serving in the Knesset (truly magnanimous of you, Ravit!). However, later on in the piece she falls squarely in line with all the right-wing accusations against Zoabi, from support for terrorism and violence to “zero tolerance for the right of Jews to a national home.”

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

MK Haneen Zoabi speaks to a crowd at the Rogatka bar in Tel Aviv. (photo: Activestills.org)

I don’t want to provide a running commentary of Zoabi’s views or explain what she means at any given time. Hebrew-speakers can read her interview with Local Call‘s Lilach Ben-David (or any other comprehensive interview) and judge for themselves. What interests me in Ravit Hecht’s column, and what makes it a symptom of the main problem of the Israeli left, is not the familiar arguments but rather the following paragraph, which lets the cat out of the bag.

When Balad proposes a two-state solution, one being a state for all its citizens and the other an exclusively Palestinian one, a question arises, exceeding political or legal considerations: What kind of dialogue can Zoabi conduct, assuming she wants to, with anyone who wishes to live here in security as a Jew? Why is her response to Israeli policies that discriminate against Israeli Arabs, and which follow apartheid principles on the West Bank, the total denial of rights and aspirations of the other side?

The problem, therefore, is not Zoabi, her participation in the Mavi Marmara or the fact that she insulted a policeman. The root of the problem is Balad’s platform itself, specifically its call for a state of all its citizens, even after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. This is, of course, an impressively honest confession that renders superfluous any discussion of style. The left is meant to strike off Balad, holus bolus, simply because of its platform. For all practical purposes the left may as well strike off Hadash and other Arab parties that share the same demand, even if they are not as strident about it as Zoabi.

Note the nexus between a “state of all its citizens,” and the security of Israel’s Jews. Bibi could not have put it any better. Hecht makes these demands in the name of “democracy, human rights, a compromise leading to fulfillment of the aspirations of both nations.”

So let’s talk about “democracy and human rights.” What does a state of all its citizens mean within the ’67 borders, as compared to a Jewish state? The answer is simple. It is a country where everyone is truly equal. It is a state that is completely indifferent to the origin of its citizens. This state will maintain Jewish culture, as in all likelihood Jews will be a substantial majority, and will keep its Jewish symbols and Jewish days of rest (with corresponding rights for Palestinians citizens). But the state apparatus will not regard itself as being committed only to the Jewish community. That means no allocation of resources, citizenship laws, benefits and obligations on the basis of ethnicity; in contrast to what is happening today.

As long as the “Jewish state” is one that treats Jews and non-Jews differently, it cannot be considered equitable, at least not in the Western sense. The reason is simple: An Arab cannot become a Jew, so s/he will always remain a second-class citizen in the “Jewish State.” A Turk can become German, a Pakistani can become British and an Israeli can become American. That is the case because these countries are delineated as a “German State” or a “British State.” But if the United States were to become the country belonging to the white race or to Christians, it would no longer be able to fulfill its pledge of equality. What is true for all other countries is true for Israel. Should the Israeli apparatus become equal and neutral, the state would turn into a “state of all its citizens,” regardless of how frightening that expression is. End of story.

The demand for a state of all its citizens alongside a Palestinian state is the only logical leftist approach in the framework of the two-state solution. It means full political and civil rights for all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, either within an independent Palestine or an independent Israel.

The problem is that many on the Israeli left see it the way Hecht does: For them the establishment of a Palestinian state is not a solution to the extreme situation of inequality between the river and the sea. For the left, the solution is a kind of deal made among the Israeli elites, in which the occupied territories are traded off for continual control of the 78 percent of the total area that will remain ours. And the brilliant part of the whole thing is that the price will be paid by someone else – the settlers. It’s your typical liberal Tel Avivian dream: the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place, the bothersome occupation disappears and our right to remain lords of the land is maintained.

It’s no wonder, then, that no one apart from the Zionist left is buying this idea – not the right and certainly not the Palestinians. Hecht’s solution? Blame Zoabi, of course.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call and was translated by Sol Salbe.

The Israeli media’s hit job on MK Haneen Zoabi
Zoabi: Struggle for democracy is a struggle against Zionism

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    1. Whiplash

      Some of Haneen Zoabi’s own family hate her because she is a traitor to Israel. So it should not be surprising that Israelis on the left hate someone who supports Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Syria, Qatar, Turkey and Iran against Israel.

      Only last week she was in Qatar with two other Balad members holding talks with a former Balad member who was a spy for Hezbollah.

      Reply to Comment
      • The oldest card in the political book of dirty tricks to neutralise opponents with is invoking ‘betrayal’ or ‘national security’.

        See also widespread use by Sovjets and Nazis.

        That these things happen in proto-fascist Israel comes as no surprise.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        See, this is where the Israeli left kind of falls into a trap.

        If Zoabi is an Israeli then she is definitely a traitor for siding with Israel’s enemies in all the conflicts and for [in practice if not in word for legal reasons] desiring the elimination of Israel. Demanding the elimination of the country in which one is a citizen is treachery by definition.

        However, Zoabi does not really recognize Israel and sees herself as a Palestinian first and foremost, so her primary loyalty is to Palestine, not Israel. So, by that mark she is not a traitor, she just happens to have no place in Israel, since she has by word and deed chosen to exclude herself.

        So, for the Israeli left there is a problem. Either she is an Israeli and a traitor, or she is not an Israeli and neither are any of the other “Israeli Arabs”. But if the “Israeli Arabs” are not Israelis, are instead Palestinians, and should then (given the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians) be expected to be hostile to Israel and Israeli Jews then there is no basis for building a society together with them and the entire position of the Israeli left collapses. Everything becomes a zero sum game and any gains for the Israeli Arabs becomes a setback for the Israeli Jews.

        Either that or they are forced to take on Noam’s delusional views on the conflict which hold that it is possible to replace Israel with a European style multicultural secular socialist state in a society where the groups best capable of organizing and finding support are Jewish nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists and where there is no hope of a common narrative or set of values to hold such a country together. Given that this approach is transparently delusional the Israeli left can’t hope to sell this vision to the population and so they are forced into labeling Zoabi as a peculiar traitor.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Excellent article that goes straight to the rub with the idea of a ‘Jewish state’ and why this will always be incompatible with a fully fledged Liberal Democracy, despite Israel’s veneer of ‘only democracy in the ME ™’

      I also fail to see how what the author calls ‘Israeli Left’ is actually Left though. ‘Left’ as in ‘nothing left of it’? Because they couldn’t play cards together for lack of a fourth man?

      The ‘Israeli Left’ was never true Left and in the last decades has been decimated. At the time of Sabra Shatila some 300,000 people took to the streets to protest the G’ment’s alleged involvement. Today that would be a mere dozen risking their lives against a right wing lynch mob.

      Israel is one of the few Western countries where the swing to the Right seems permanent. The pendulum is stuck.

      Reply to Comment
      • AbsurdCircle

        The reason people no longer take to the street about what’s happening in Gaza is twofold:

        1. After hundreds of thousands took to the street in 2011 to protest the government’s economic policy and got nothing in return, the vast majority of the Israeli public stopped believing in the effectiveness of demonstration as a tool for change. The Israeli right stopped believing in demonstrations much earlier, after they failed to prevent the Disengagement from Gaza.

        2. For better or worse, most Israelis, even many people in the left, began seeing these demonstrations as support of Hamas. That outlook is wrong, but the extremism and unwillingness for any compromise of Hamas made many fellow left-wingers believe that long attrition war or occupation is the only way to end this conflict.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Daniel Ben-Chorin

      Oh come on. This kind of conspiratorial garbage doesn’t belong in a serious publication like +972 mag.
      Just because the Zionist left tries to reconcile Jewish national aspirations with the values of democracy and human rights, doesn’t mean they ‘hate’ Haneen Zoabi or that it’s some kind of sinister plot to subjugate and oppress the Arabs.

      I respect a lot of your writing Noam Sheizaf, but you’re way off the mark here.

      Reply to Comment
    4. jjj

      No – they “hate” her, or more like “despise” her since she is a blatant liar and a proven blood libelist, who will stop at no lie to come down on Israel as she sees it as serving her cause, which is a Palestinian state from Jordan river to the sea, with possibility of equal rights (if she believes it) to the Jewish residents – though this solution would most probably lead to extermination of the Jews in this land than to equal rights (which she also possibly knows…)

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lo

      I am reminded of the acid and bile that was spewed out of Ben Gurion in the face of Toufiq Toubi.

      I am also reminded of Nathan Alterman’s lovely quote in his defence: “[Toubi serves] by right, and not by grace.”

      Reply to Comment
    6. bor

      “This kind of conspiratorial garbage doesn’t belong in a serious publication like +972 mag.”

      Actually, this is precisely the type of material that is published here day in and day out.

      Presently on 972:
      “Gaza deaths aren’t worth a mention in leading Israeli newspaper”

      “What would Israelis say to families of civilian casualties in Gaza?”

      “COMIC: Wiesel, weaponized”

      “Netanyahu’s zero-sum war in Gaza”

      “How a Gaza house becomes a military post”

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        These are very god articles IMHO, and while quality is a matter of taste and views, what was conspiratorial about them? Nothing!

        Reply to Comment
        • bor

          Oh, and reading them I thought that this site was trying to make me believe that ugly-looking Jews tendentiously using the excuse of the Holocaust were waging an indefensible war, where they muck up Gazan toilets, that Israel’s citizens cannot explain in part because of their Holocaust lies and in part because their newspapers don’t care about Palestinian deaths. And their leadership is simply intent on letting this continue by killing the very Hamas leaders who would make peace.

          But hey, it’s a matter of taste and views.

          Reply to Comment
    7. bor

      So as I understand this article, a good leftist should accept the “ideal” of a Palestinian state next to Israel (and, as we have been told by the Palestinians, no Jews will be permitted to live there – oops, I meant Zionists), and Israel itself would change its national objective to one where Arab national objectives are precisely equal to Jewish ones.

      Hmmmm….do you foresee any problems in the future with this sort of arrangement?

      And furthermore, do you think that good leftists should demand that the “Palestinian state” next to Israel should allow “Zionists” to live in it with full equality?

      I’m sorry, Noam, but you are living in a fantasy. Your hatred of the presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria, a presence that is proven day in and day out to be absolutely essential, is blinding you. Ideals are beautiful things, but they rarely have anything to do with reality. It’s sort of like all those lovely stories about the “Arab Spring” (many of which were published on 972) written by idealists. Where is that “spring” now?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard

      Isn’t it possible for (Muslim/Christian) Arabs to convert to Judaism and actually immigrate to Israel through the Law of Return? I believe this has happened before. So…its actually easier to become an Israeli Jew for an Arab who knows Hebrew (pretty common) than it is for many immigrants to Western countries to become naturalized (since many Western countries require a working knowledge of the language). So this piece is based entirely on a huge factual error. Well done.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Gustav


      Why can’t an Arab become a Jew? Although Judaism is a non Proselytising religion, it isn’t against conversions. I have friends who have converted to Judaism because they are married to Jewish spouses. Nu?

      As for Zoabi.

      Why should honest lefties not condemn her for her double standard? She is fighting tooth and nail against a Jewish majority state where the only discrimination is to do with Jewish immigration law which can be described as affirmative action (not a strange phenomenon to lefties in other contexts). To all intents and purposes all other laws are not discriminatory.

      On the other hand, Zoabi fights tooth and nail for the establishment of an ethnically pure Arab state where Islam is the official religion.

      She can’t get more blatantly hypocritical than that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        You are suggesting that it is the place of nice “enlightened” leftists to preach liberal values to “unenlightened” peoples. Most leftists around the world call that neoconservatism. Zoabi wants the Palestinians to have national self-determination, but she also wants to campaign for Israel (her own country, in which she is a politician, she is not a Palestinian politician so she has no say as to their affairs) to be less ethnocentric.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Well, you are not an Israeli “nice enlightened” leftie and you are preaching to us, Ray.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Yes. The one instance one is aloud to preach, is to preach to others to not be so preachy and superior.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            So let me get this straight.

            It is ok to for lefties to preach and criticize Israel but it isn’t ok to preach and criticize Palestinian Arabs?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            Yes. Colonized/oppressed people need support and solidarity. Colonizers/oppressors need to go schtupp themselves.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Ray, the Arabs are the only colonizers in the Middle East. Just look at where they started out and where they ended up?

            Their starting point was the Arab peninsula. They ended up taking over the entire Middle East and North Africa.

            You want to preach to colonizers, Ray baby? Go indulge yourself. Go preach to the Arabs.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whiplash

            It is ironic that Ray seems to have no clue of the history of the middle east whereby the Arab Imperialism conquered, looted, enslaved and colonized the middle east and the Maghreb many times over.

            Reply to Comment
          • NicholasLionel

            The Palestinians have not been occupied until 1967, in a war where all arab countries wanted to kill all jews in Israel and were doing caricatures very similar nazi caricatures depicting ethnic cleansing of jews. Only after the jews successfully destroyed the attacking egyptian and Jordanian army that Palestinians previously occupied by Egypt and Jordan became occupied by Israel.

            Reply to Comment
    10. AbsurdCircle

      I haven’t seen many leftists commenting on this site (mostly right-wing pro-Palestine and right-wing pro-Israeli trolls), so maybe it does need to be seen: the Israeli left opposes Haneen Zoabi, because she does not represent any left wing ideas at all. This has nothing to do with her supposed quest for equality. All Arab MKs from Balad, Haddash, the Muslim party and ‘even’ the ones from Meretz (yes, most of Jewish Mertez MKs still support the Return Law, but I seriously doubt that any Meretz Arab MK does it as anything more than lip service) call for full equality for both Jews and Arab. Ahmad Tibi is specifically very high profile in demanding equality, and although the Israeli right wingers hate him as much as they hate Zoabi (they even call the pair Tibi-Zibi), the only criticism I ever recall him getting from the Israeli left was when he visited Qaddafi in Lybia and praised him (of course, Zoabi did that as well).

      Haneen Zoabi is disliked by the left simply since nothing about both her views or her rhetoric is left wing. Balad is an old-guard Arab nationalist movement dreaming about an Assad-like secular Arab nationalist regime and wrapping it in nice words like ‘two-state solution’.

      Ravit Hecht’s has legitimate qualms about Balad demanding an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian state with unlimited right of return both to the new state and to Israel, with the law of Return for Jews cancelled in Israel. The author attacks Hecht (and in extensions, the Israeli left) for rightfully saying that there’s nothing just about replacing one apartheid-like policy with another, by just switching the roles between Israelis and Palestinians. For this is what Balad truly wants, and since Balad is the mirror image of the Jewish Likud, Zoabi is nothing more than the equally unpleasant mirror image of Miri Regev. She may be more soft-spoken than her counterpart, but her intolerance and insatiable appetite for vapid controversy is the one and the same.

      So yes, democracy dictates us to be magnanimous and suffer populist bigots (to a certain extent, at least), but we don’t have to like them, just because it would be oh-so-condescending to coldly give them political freedom and leave without showering them in hugs. We prefer to be condescending, thank you very much.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Ok AbsurdCircle, I have no problems with your views. Never mind about who is left wing or who is right wing or even a troll (as you call them) all that is just a red herring.

        To me it is more about who ultimately looks out for our rights too, not just the rights of the “poor Palestinians” who have been at our throat for at least 100 years.

        Zoabi is just the latest one of those. She too will come and go as all the rest of them did ranging from Husseini, Shukeiri, Arafat and many others.

        Reply to Comment
    11. Abbie H.

      “The demand for a state of all its citizens alongside a Palestinian state…”?! Hmmm… what was that one about “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”? Of course, if you think Jews have no place in the Middle East, this position makes sense. If you think that Israelis should all say, “hey, you’re right, we are imperialist pigs,” then this position makes sense. If, however, you think that compromise is the way to peace, that both sides’ narratives should be respected, then the asymmetry in this position makes no sense. Either “states of all their citizens” or nation-states – but not a nation-state for one side and a “state of all citizens” for the other side. This should be elementary logic. Unless, of course, your idea of a plausible peace deal is that the Israelis should commit suicide.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Average American

      Israel insists that the country be called The Jewish State. This is a racial definition. This immediately closes any two-state or two-race options. Further, Israel’s founders were Zionists, and its government is still Zionist, and Zionism says Israel’s purpose is exclusively for The Jews.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        @Average Arab
        Arabs for Arabians and Muslims.

        Reply to Comment
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