Israel’s Arabs remain key to peace
@Arab_News The Pen is Mightier than the sword, for Israel, but the vote is Mightier than the Pen for Israel’s oppressed Arab Palestinian citizens. Arabs in Israel can vote, strengthen their population and change Israel’s increasingly apartheid-like racism from the inside.
Published in the Arab News Thursday Dec. 15, 2016. Click to view original column
By Ray Hanania
If Palestinians are to have a voice in their future, it must begin inside Israel by Palestinians who take the initiative to change Israel’s policies.
Historically, Israel’s Arab population has boycotted Israeli elections protesting Israel’s discriminatory policies against non-Jews. That changed in the March 2015 elections when four of the largest Arab political parties form the “Joint List.”
Still, only 63.5 percent of Arabs who could vote, about 440,000, actually voted, representing about 11 percent of total votes cast.
About 82 percent of Arabs voted for the “Joint List” consisting of Hadash, the United Arab List, Balad and Ta’al. The remainder voted for non-Arab or Zionist parties.
As a consequence, the Joint List won 13 seats in the Knesset giving it a significant voice. Four other Arab candidates won seats through the existing Zionist parties.
But the Arab voice in Israel is still weak both by the hurdles placed on it by Israel and by its own doing.
Arabs make up nearly 21 percent of Israel’s population, or about 1.8 million people, compared to about 6.5 million Jews. That means the actual Arab vote could be much higher than 440,000.
It also means Arab citizens of Israel should also have 21 percent of the Knesset’s 120 total seats, or 25 seats.
That means the Arabs are 8 seats short. And if they could come together in Israel, with one party seating 25 members of the Knesset, they could in theory become the Knesset’s largest political group.
And that could change Israel’s politics and put pressure on Israel to change, too.
That’s why in 2015, a controversy erupted when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to push his supporters to vote more by putting a spotlight on the formation of the Joint List.
It was criticized as fear-mongering at its worst, something not unusual in Israel to reinforce Jewish racism against Arabs.
But last July, Netanyahu recorded a YouTube video apologizing and saying he hoped more Arab Israelis would go to the polls again.
“Before my election, I said Arab voters were going to the polls in droves. I was referring to a specific political party, but many people were understandably offended. I apologized for how my comment was misunderstood,” Netanyahu said following an awkward welcome in Arabic. “But today I want to go further. Today I am asking Arab citizens in Israel to take part in our society — in droves. Work in droves, study in droves, thrive in droves.”
Of course, the “apology” shocked members of his rightwing ruling political coalition like David Biton, his coalition chairman, who said he preferred that Israel’s Arab citizens to stay away from the elections and not vote when Israel elects a new parliament.
Biton’s comments drew swift condemnation from Joint List member Dr. Jamal Zahalka.
“This feels like a scene taken from a horror movie, staring Biton and directed by Netanyahu; who in his turn expressed his racism against Arab minority by saying ‘Arab voters are going in droves to the polls’ on election day in 2015,” Zhalka said.
“No one is doing us any favors, our voters’ voices on election day will be the proper response for these petty and racist statements. … We will continue serving our voters’ interest against these racist bullies.”
If Arabs had a stronger presence in the Knesset, they could play a significant role in defining the Knesset’s next ruling coalition. As it turns out, Netanyahu is not the most extreme member of Israel’s government.
He continues to support the Two-State solution, although he also continues to stand behind much of Israel’s rhetoric, arguing, as he did Sunday on the CBS TV interview program “60 Minutes” that the illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied territories were not the main obstacle to peace, contradicting the belief of most of the intelligent world.
Netanyahu turned to the ridiculous example of how Israel “gave back” Gaza to the Palestinians and how Palestinians turned Gaza into a launch-pad for thousands of rockets to kill Israelis.
Of course the reality of Gaza is that Israel reigned down far more rockets, missiles and bombs on Palestinians there than Palestinians fired at Israel over the years.
But as we all know, truth, accuracy and facts are AWOL from coverage by the biased Israeli media and the even more biased mainstream American news media which operates in a tight pro-Israel headlock that silences pro-Palestinian voices and allows American politicians to pass laws that punish American citizens who criticize Israel’s racist practices.
Media that is “unfriendly” to Israel is banned from covering Israel, and journalists and columnists critical of Israel are banned from entering the country. In fact, Israel has laws that prevent Arabs who are too critical of Israel from running for office, forming a political party or even voting.
The formation of the “Joint List” is one of the most significant events to take place since the adoption of the Balfour Declaration 100 years ago this November allowing Britain to convert Palestine from a Christian/Muslim majority into a colonialist majority of Jewish immigrants from Europe and the Arab World.
The Joint List needs to grow. Its leadership needs to win the support of Jewish votes in future elections. It needs to become true leaders of Palestinian rights and the champions of Palestinian statehood and nationalism.
Through strategic messaging and public relations the Joint List could become the single largest coalition in a future Knesset, giving them the power not only to reverse some of Israel’s racist policies but also select the next Prime Minister.
The only thing keeping Israel from annexing the West Bank is the fear that the West Bank Palestinians will join with Israeli Palestinians and vote Israel out of existence.
The pen is mightier than the sword, but the vote is mightier than the pen.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American political columnist. Reach him at email@example.com.)