The Palestinian-Israelis’ Selma Moment?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Ayman Odah, leader of the Joint Arab List, the party representing Palestinian-Israelis and elements of the Israeli left, responded late Tuesday to the news that Israelis of Palestinian descent came out in droves to vote. Their turnout in the last Israeli election had only been 56%. Odah said from his home on Mt. Carmel in Haifa that he was sure his list would get 15 seats of the Israeli parliament’s 120. Exit polls were showing the list with about 13, but final results won’t be presented to the president until Thursday.

Odah told reporters, “This is a historic day for the Arab masses. We shall respond to racism and to those who want to expel us and kick us out. Will will be the third force in the Knesset . . . we are going to defeat the Right and win 15 seats and affect political decision-making in Israel.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, for all the world like George Wallace in Alabama in the 1960s, warned that the minority in Israel was heading to the polls in large numbers and that the Right wing in Israel was in danger as a result.

Odah continued, in Arabic, “Tomorrow, Binyamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett will wake up to find themselves in the opposition.” That is, he was saying that the leaders of the far-right Likud and Jewish Home parties would be in the powerless minority. Odeh was disappointed in this aspiration, given the Likud win.

Netanyahu charged that the left wing parties were busing Palestinian-Israelis to the polls.

In an unprecedented move, Odah said he would study any proposal from Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog that showed a commitment to peace. This was before it became clear that Netanyahu’s Likud had won. It is a little unlikely that the Joint Arab List would have been invited to help form a government, and the JAL’s Balad Party coalition partner objected to any such thing. The small rightwing parties Herzog needs to get to 61 seats of 120 are racist and would likely not have agreed to sit in a cabinet with Palestinian-Israelis.

Palestinian-Israelis as Israeli citizens technically have the vote if they live in neighborhoods and villages recognized by the Israeli state. In the past, they have had as many as 12 seats in parliament but since they were divided into small parties and lacked unity, it did not really matter. There was also more consensus among Jewish Israelis in the past. Given the present polarization of left and right and the united front of the Palestinian-Israelis and their Israeli Communist allies, their good performance this time could, as Odah says, make them a swing vote on some issues and give them genuine influence.

You could compare this moment to the post 1964 period in American politics when African-Americans mobilized, having gotten fuller voting rights, and you ended up with a Congressional Black Caucus that simply had no counterpart in the 1950s. In some ways, today is the Selma moment of the Palestinian-Israelis.


Related video:

CCTV: ” ‘Joint Arab List’ emerges as third-largest political group in Israel”

11 Responses

  1. Likud wins. One state solution becomes only solution exposing once and for all Israel is an apartheid state

    • Now that Netanyahu has openly stated this, the question is, what will the US do, and will it keep supporting what the entire world now knows is an apartheid state, with no intentions whatsoever, of ending the occupation.
      It would also be interesting to see how the UN and the rest of the world will react to this revelation by Netanyahu.

      • The US government kept supporting the apartheid government of South Africa for decades.

        However, the US people turned sharply against apartheid, and the program of boycotts and divestments was highly effective.

  2. “………. [i]f Herzog did form a government with the Joint Arab List in the coalition this would be a historic first for Israel.”

    87% of Arab Israelis polled want the Joint Arab List to help form the next government and 74% prefer inclusion of the list in a new government formed by Zionist Union.

    Zionist Union and the leftist Meretz Party combined will likely have 31 to 32 seats in the new Knesset to be seated and centrist parties headed by Yair Lapid and Moshe Kahlon likely have another 22 seats – meaning the 12-13 seats the Joint Arab List will receive are enough to seat Zionist Union as the leaders of a new coalition without inclusion of any right-wing parties.

    Kahlon, a Libyan-born Mizrahi Jew, is now being seen as a power broker in the formation of the next Israeli government. He has been a bitter foe of Netanyahu and it has been suggested that Likud may have to relinquish Netanyahu as its prime minister nominee to allay Kahlon and, further, Kahlon may receive a position as finance minister in a Likud-led government as the price for his support.

    • The only things standing in the way of a new, peaceful era for Israel… are the unwillingness of Zionist Union & Kulanu to form a joint government with the Joint List, and the unwillingness of Balad to form a joint government with Zionist Union and Kulanu.

      Let us hope that they overcome this. Otherwise Netenyahu will lead the country down the road to perdition.

      • The Joint Arab List does not have to be included in the government to wield power as they could simply oppose a no-confidence vote and support Zionist Union proposals as opposition members – the Joint List’s power primarily would be to keep the right-wing out of government and ensure the ruling government respects Palestinian interests.

        If Pres. Rivlin’s suggestion is followed – a national unity government – then the possibility becomes that the Joint List “top dog” will become the Leader of the Opposition and the Israeli PM will be required by law to brief him/her on classified national security matters.

  3. You know Bibi (and by extension, Israel in general), has turned an important corner. Or, perhaps we should say, crossed an important bridge.

    It seems to have even caused some second thoughts with the ever-loyal Jeffrey Goldberg:

    link to

    Bibi won by consolidating his base in the most blatant way, with the sort of people who shoot when they loose. He had to be pressured into this experiment, but Bibi now knows which votes really matter.

    By acquiescing to their likes the rest of Israel is tacitly saying what it really stands for.

  4. The United States should speak in the only language that Mr. Netanyahu is likely to understand. Military aid to the Israeli regime should be sharply reduced. The United States should no longer support Israel with assured vetoes at the UN Security Council.
    It is time for US citizens who oppose apartheid to speak up. Our Senators and Congress people need to be told in no uncertain terms that morality AND US international self-interest require a more balanced policy in the Middle East. Right now the Israeli tail is wagging the American dog!

    • And breaking news is that the administration is reevaluating things with Israel in light of how Bibi handled himself. The question now becomes what can/will they be able to do any differently?

      Bibi may even have considered whether this move would further compromise his relationship with the US. But he either calculated that he didn’t care or that he had the US firmly in hand (as evidenced by his demonstrated control of Congress).

      I rather suspect both are true.

      • After hearing Tom Cotton’s speech advocating U.S. “global military dominance,” I think Netanyahu’s victory will become part of the longer term plan in both countries.

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