Meet the new MK: Zouheir Bahloul hopes to promote better relations between Jews, Arabs

'The Post' talks with Zouheir Bahloul of Zionist Union about his entry to politics.

By
March 30, 2015 02:28
Zouheir Bahloul

Zouheir Bahloul. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/102FM)

 
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Name: Zouheir Bahloul
Party: Zionist Union (Labor)
Age: 64
Hometown: Acre
Family status: Widower, 3 children
Profession before becoming an MK: I was a news radio host on Radio A-Shams and a lecturer at Emek Yizre’el College, after over 30 years at IBA – Channel One and Israel Radio – as a sportscaster. At the beginning of my career, I was a teacher.

Why did you decide to enter politics?
I mainly decided to enter politics because I saw how relations between Jews and Arabs had deteriorated, especially ofter Operation Protective Edge. I decided that I had enough of covering and reporting events, and thought that maybe I can be on the side that acts and passes laws to try to change the difficult reality we are in.

What are the first three bills you plan to propose?
I want to initiate projects that will strengthen coexistence in Israel and increase equality. We live in a multicultural society and [Israeli Arabs] are important demographically, ethnically and nationally, and we have to make sure there is equality. Maybe I will pass a Basic Law ensuring civil equality, which would remove a lot of the negativity and the dilemmas. Inequality is the main cause of conflict. Israel says it’s democratic and there is equality, but that doesn’t really exist.

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We need to improve the discourse in the country from one of violence, racism and incitement, which we even hear from our heads of state, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scare tactic before the election that Arabs are going to the voting booths in droves.

We need to reset the discourse and make it more civilized and respectful of others, starting in high places, among leaders, and then that will trickle down to the people.

What was the most interesting experience on the campaign trail?
I visited 10 unrecognized villages in the Negev in one day. That was seared into my consciousness in an incomprehensible way, to see that there is a real backyard of Israeli society.

These people’s lives are not lives. They want to be part of civilization and can’t. I saw that in democratic Israel we have a backyard that needs to be dealt with before we can call ourselves enlightened.

This Knesset has a recordhigh number of Israeli Arabs. How do you think this will affect the way it functions and the kinds of changes it brings?
I
think this is a true reflection of Israeli society. As the number of Arab MKs goes up, the Knesset will be more authentic and real, because it will show the real mosaic of Israeli society.

Higher numbers of Arabs in Knesset are an appropriate representation of people who need their voices to be heard and should bring a civilized discourse and become an inseparable part of Israeli society. We have a different nationality and culture, but we have to be regular citizens.

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To include other opinions and cultures is the real test of Israeli society, and the test of the new Arab leaders is to represent the new Arab in Israel who wants to be integrated.

What is your position on talks with the Palestinian Authority and a possible Palestinian state?
It’s obvious that the disconnect and distance from negotiations created by the Right and Netanyahu ignoring the problem brought us to difficult circumstances. After Oslo, there were many agreements and meetings, and many thought we were on the path to sanity, but Netanyahu took back his declaration [of support for a demilitarized Palestinian state] at Bar-Ilan and blocked negotiations. That led us to a terrifying situation of another conflict. Who needs conflict? Why not continue negotiations instead? We can talk about being a multicultural nation, but in the background there will always be the thought of whether there is a peace agreement or not.

A peace treaty will bring a different climate and a different reality. Without it, we’ll be stuck in the same place. There is no other solution than creating a Palestinian state, unless people want one state for two nations.

What impact do you think the tension in US-Israel relations will have on us in the next few years?
The Right and Netanyahu brought US-Israel relations to a bizarre, unprecedented, incomprehensible place. The US is attacking Israel. That is something that has almost never happened. Netanyahu spoke to Congress against [US President Barack] Obama’s will and is arguing with the US about every issue. Israel is slowly become more isolated in its international relations.

Everyone in Israel should be disturbed by this and think of it as an existential issue.

We cannot separate ourselves from the world. Our conflict with our No. 1 ally is unprecedented.

What can be done to lower the cost of housing?
It cannot be that in Israel in 2015 there is no hope for young people to buy homes. They have to be affordable in a normal country. People are moving to Berlin because this is becoming an impossible place to live. We are cutting off the dreams of young people.

What needs to be done is to lower the prices and not abandon the future of our young people. The government has to take responsibility and give options for funding – the key is lower prices. We also need some public housing.

What should the government do to lower the poverty rate?
First of all, the government has to be more social-democratic and not sell its wealth to tycoons. It has to close the gaps. One of the most important jobs of a government is to create workplaces. Then the poverty will get lower and people will maintain their dignity, instead of taking handouts.

Is there something else people should know about you?
I grew up in an orphanage [for Muslim children] that my mother managed. When I entered the place, she said I have to be just like the other children, and that remained in my head. I grew up in a socialist environment, along with all those who had pain from their miserable fate their whole lives. I grew up with them, so I can understand the pain of people in difficult situations, the pain of the poor and the needy. No one needs to teach me what it means to be social-democratic. I understand it and I am a good, authentic representative for people who want to make a change.

I also love sports, which is something I have in common with many people. I was a soccer broadcaster for over 30 years.

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