Emanuel Shahaf

The Arabs are coming: Israel’s quiet political revolution

Almost two years ago, when the threat of legislation of a higher minimum threshold to enter the Knesset was first raised by Avigdor Lieberman and his party, “Israel Beitenu”, I called on Arab citizens of Israel to unite and form one joint party to prevent the threatened exclusion of the Arab parties from Israel’s parliamentary process. At the time, I was concerned that such a united party would gyrate towards more radical policies. I am happy to say that what happened is much more positive and the suggestion was implemented with an interesting twist: Instead of the Arab parties forming a “Joint Arab List”, they formed it together with Hadash, a Jewish-Arab party thus forming a “Joint List”, a list that includes Jewish candidates.  By doing so, they potentially changed the political landscape in Israel. From now on there will be two kinds of parties in the Knesset only, Jewish parties and joint parties. Incidentally, the Israeli media haven’t internalized the development and consistently call the party by the wrong name, insisting it is the “Joint Arab List” . It is not, it is the “Joint List”.

The political agenda of the “Joint List”, at present available in Hebrew only  is pretty tame with the only really problematic line calling for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem calling for the right of return based on the UN decision 194. A call on imperialist forces to stay out of the area and a call for disarmament may also tee off the average Jewish voter but the social agenda ? A little left of Meretz.

Both, the Israeli establishment and the public as well don’t yet grasp the implications of this development but looking at the present party set-up, such a party (not necessarily the present “Joint List”),  could score in the 20 mandate range and higher, given charismatic leadership. It could easily come within reach of being the biggest party in Israel.

Those among us who feel threatened by this development should take comfort in the thought, that the main agenda pushed by the present “Joint List” will be one of civil and equal rights and, not an agenda anybody other than religious parties, can really take issue with. There will be plenty of parliamentary opportunity to resolve dicey issues of religion and state and separate the two, once and for all, an agenda Zionist parties on their own don’t dare to put in writing lest they would lose the opportunity to form a coalition with the religious parties.

It is an irony of sorts that it is Avigdor Lieberman, transfer proponent and serial inciter who tried to eliminate Arab political parties altogether by raising the minimum threshold needed to enter the Knesset, who brought this all about.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".