Q: Wait – what?
A: Okay, maybe the headline isn’t entirely accurate. After 71 years on the planet, about 40 of them in Israel/Palestine, I’m not a girl anymore. And “nice” isn’t really my thing, either. I could maybe identify as Compassionate Nasty Woman / Still She Persists, if I had to specify. But Jewish, native New Yorker, and Joint List voter — all accurate.
Q: What does being from New York have to do with it?
A: New York City is a massive jumble of tribal villages whose people live alongside one another and mostly agree to disagree. Agreeing to disagree is the touchstone of a working democracy. They also share recipes, patronize each other’s restaurants, and rarely argue about cultural appropriation. I still vividly remember discovering Sichuan cuisine in my teens: a revelation. But I digress.
Q: What exactly is this Joint List you are gonna vote for?
A: The Joint List is an admittedly uneasy, only-in-Israel alliance of four mostly Arab political parties which according to Wikipedia “includes communists, socialists, feminists, Islamists, and Arab nationalists.” The common denominator is that they are all seeking more political heft for the Arab-Palestinian 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry in the next national election (September 17, 2019) and thereafter.
Q: Why vote for them?
A: To begin with: Just by reconstituting the Joint List, its membership and leadership have proven they can leverage a basic principle of democracy. They can work constructively together while seriously disagreeing about key issues and yet remain true to their principles, an important skill that other Israeli politicians too rarely model. One key point of evident Joint List consensus is the idea that their prospects for wielding influence on Israeli government decision-making improve dramatically if they stick together. The four parties ran as one list two elections ago, more or less broke up, ran last time as two sets of two parties, and now for this forthcoming election have reunited under Ayman Odeh, who also headed it before.
Q: Who is Ayman Odeh?
A: Ayman Odeh is a gifted 44-year-old, Haifa-born, Palestinian Arab Israeli politician on the cusp of morphing into a world-class statesman. (My opinion.) Sorry — statesperson.
Q: Aren’t you worried about voting for a Joint List that includes an Islamist party?
A: Nope. As a secular (raised as Reform) Jewish woman in Israel, I have seen basic civil rights — of non-Jewish Israelis, Jewish non-Orthodox Israelis, and women especially — eroded year after year by the increasingly restrictive and patriarchal agenda of Jewish ultra-religious power-brokering male theocrats. Maybe a few Islamists in the government would be some kind of antidote to the Jewish fundamentalists. Anyway it can’t hurt to try. The religious fanatics could caucus together and leave the rest of us alone. Or better yet, if the next Knesset really has any, um, courage, it could ban all political parties whose bylaws or practices discriminate against women. That would eliminate all the fundamentalists, no matter which scripture they generally weaponize against women’s rights or other human rights they seek to delegitimize.
Q: Aren’t you worried about voting for a Joint List that includes a Communist party?
A: Definitely not worried. It’s not that kind of Communist.
Q: But what about a Joint List that includes Arab nationalists? That doesn’t bother you?
A: If they can legislate and govern alongside Zionists, post-Zionists, non-Zionists, normalizers, anti-normalizers, and nostalgic so-called liberal Zionists, and agree to disagree, I’m for it. They’d all be honorary New Yorkers. And besides, if we want to acknowledge and honor the collective national rights of Palestinian Arab Israeli citizens, in some way that makes sense, who better to confer with than Palestinian Arab Israeli nationalists?
Q: What other factors are relevant to your choice?
A: No Israeli national administration in the country’s 71-year history has included Arab Israeli political parties in the governing coalition. It’s about time. It’s past time. It’s our only hope.
Q: That’s pretty extreme: “our only hope.” Why do you say that?
A: I’ll explain why. It’s about Rivlin’s “four tribes.” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, a conservative career politician from a long-established (since 1809) Jerusalem family, is someone I greatly admire and with whom I respectfully would agree to disagree about various things. He gave a famous speech in June of 2015 introducing his concept of “the four tribes” in today’s Israel. He said that the four tribes must learn to make a shared life together for the sake of all our children. An admirable vision, except that his four tribes are secular (Jewish) Israelis, national religious (Jewish) Israelis, ultra-Orthodox (Jewish) Israelis, and Arab Israelis. By now, if you’ve been paying attention, you will realize the very great flaw in that otherwise well-intentioned formula: Arab Israeli citizens (one-fifth of the population, remember) are no more a monolithic bloc than are Jewish Israelis. My take is that if Arab and Jewish progressives don’t get it together, together, the country is gonna go under. Now is the time for democracy-supporting, pluralistic, future-oriented, open-minded, equality-loving Israeli citizens to unite across the Arab-Jewish divide once and for all. Because the Arab-Jewish divide is an idea whose time has passed, and No More Enemies is an idea whose time has come.
Q: What does No More Enemies have to do with it?
A: Read the book and find out.
Q: If you had a slogan for the upcoming election in Israel this time around, what would it be?
A: Ayman Odeh for Prime Minister!
Q: C’mon, are you serious?
A: Absolutely. From my mouth to God’s ear. Of course in a more perfect world, I’d go for Aida Touma-Suleiman if she would agree to serve. Minor detail: courageous progressive feminist though she is, she doesn’t currently head any party. On that score, however, I remain hopeful for the longer-term future. In the meantime, how about we go with Ayman Odeh, the gifted 44-year-old, Haifa-born, Palestinian Arab Israeli politician on the way to becoming a world-class statesman. Okay, okay: statesperson. I’m with him.