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Arab citizens of Israel, unite!

Zionist parties have made a colossal mistake by shunting aside Arab voters and the likely alternative won't be pretty

OK, I am being provocative here but if I was an Arab citizen of the State of Israel, that’s what I would call for now. Why is that?

I don’t know if anybody really noticed, but Israel is in the process of becoming more Jewish (and less Israeli) by the day. No, I am not talking about Jewish immigration, nor am I talking about the birthrate of the Haredi community. No, I am looking at our Zionist political parties whose representation in the Knesset has basically become Arab free.

The Likud never was big with Arab representation on their Knesset list, Israel Beteinu neither, but Labor used to have an Arab member in a safe spot in its line-up and even fielded an Arab cabinet member once in a while, Bennett’s Jewish Home party wouldn’t think of it (notice the name..), Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) wasn’t even tempted – no Arabs in its future. Livni’s Tnuah (Movement) couldn’t be bothered to move into that direction and Kadima (Forward) barely had room for the Jews and left the Arabs behind. Shas (sorry, not Zionist..) may have had Arab voters but that’s where it ends. Full stop. Luckily Meretz saved us from ignominy and as the only Zionist party put an Arab citizen into the Knesset.

Apparently, the other Zionist parties have decided not to consider Arab citizens as a valued constituency. From a political point of view it’s an interesting concept to simply write off 20 percent or so of the electorate. I think the Arab population of Israel is entitled to ask itself what that implies.

Looking at this from the outside this is what it looks like: Israel is surrounded by a few hundred million Arabs and has a close to 20 percent Arab minority within its borders, all of them citizens. In addition it makes life pretty miserable for another 2.5 – 4 million Palestinian Arabs in the occupied territories and the Gaza strip with no end in sight. We have just put together a government that, needless to say, doesn’t have an Arab citizen anywhere close to the cabinet table and there isn’t a single Arab member of Knesset in the coalition. If the parties in the government coalition have mentioned the Arab minority in Israel during their election campaign, they did so disparagingly and certainly made no overt effort to get its votes. It certainly doesn’t look like we are trying to integrate into the neighborhood.

I venture a guess that this state of affairs is likely to contribute somewhat to the Arab attitude towards Israel, wherever they may live. But not only Arabs may raise an eyebrow or two. Equality minded Europeans and Americans as well may find this development rather odd.

Interestingly enough, one of the first laws to be tabled as part of the coalition agreement concerns the establishment of a four percent minimum threshold required for political parties to enter the Knesset. Wonder of wonders, this law, should it pass, which is likely, would for all intents and purposes wipe out the Arab parties. This is the message then – read it loud and clear: Arab citizens, from now on, you must vote along ethnic lines if you want to be represented in the Knesset – Zionist parties except for Meretz don’t care for you.

The Arab party which is likely to be created soon to take advantage of this unprecedented development, is unlikely to be Zionist. Neither will it be grateful for the right to represent an unwanted minority in the Knesset. What that party will have to say won’t be soothing to our ears. Now who should take the blame for that?

All I can hope is that the Zionist parties of this country have a close look at the Declaration of Independence, realize their huge mistake and embrace the Arab citizens of Israel who have done nothing to deserve being shunted aside, nothing at all. They are, after all, citizens of the state.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and was a candidate in Labor’s 2012 primary election for the Knesset list