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In a Shinui-style turn of events Saturday, MK Issam Mahoul, the chairman of the Communist party, lost his seat in the Hadash primaries to Dr. Hanna Sweid causing an uproar in the hall and leaving questions about the joint future of the Israeli Communist party and the Hadash political front it founded.
When the announcement came that Sweid won 238 votes while Mahoul got 197 shouting arguments broke out at the Semiramis wedding hall in Shfaram, where the Hadash primaries took place. Sweid is not a member of the communist party, which makes up the backbone of the central committee of the Hadash movement.
Instead of making a thank you speech to his voters, Mahoul and those close to him in the party closed themselves in a side room while his supporters almost came to blows with others outside the door.
Later Mahoul took the podium and told the young and old, Arabs and Jews, villagers and city people that came from across the country that his loss reflected an attempt to hurt the Israeli Communist party.
Afterwards, he told The Jerusalem Post that he believed there was "a conspiracy" made against him and the party.
"I have no personal issue with losing to Sweid; he is a good man," Mahoul told the Post in the hallway of the Semiramis Hall, as Hadash members voted for the fourth seat. "But for some time now there have been attempts to change the principles of the party and the movement and we must carefully decide what we will do now."
Central committee members of the communist party would meet on Monday, he said, to discuss what moves the party will now take.
In a fiery speech later an hour later, MK Mohammed Barakeh refuted Mahoul's accusations saying that the results of the vote must be accepted. Barakeh, who won as expected the first seat of Hadash, which he holds now, lashed out at Mahoul without calling him by name, saying, "some irresponsible things were said todayâ€¦but we will remain united."
The commotion brought to the fore the growing division between the Communist party and the political movement, Hadash, (Democratic Front for Peace) that the party established. A minority of the Communist party members - including Mahoul and the core Jewish members such as Tamar Gozansky and Dov Hanin - want to keep the communist values and preserve the Jewish-Arab face of the party.
However, most of the Hadash voters are Arab and want the party to give top seats to and make alliances with those who can expand its voter base. In the 16th Knesset the Jewish lawyer and core member Dov Hanin did not get a seat in the Knesset because Hadash chose to give the third seat to Ahmed Tibi, the head of the Taal party.
"It's in the interest of the Jews that Hadash make alliances with others in order to spread its popularity and take it away from the Balad party and the Islamic Movement," said Awdi Bisharat, Chairman of Hadash.
Some sources told the Post that there was an attempt to get Yosef Ataouna, the Beduin member who ran for the third seat, to step down from the race against Dov Hanin, who also ran for that seat. Ataouna ran, but lost and Hanin got the third seat.
"Hanin won because he is from the same group as Mahoul and people did not want to create greater conflict after Mahoul's loss," said Walid Abu Sbet, 30, a high school geography teacher in the Negev.
Hanin seemed to have realized that. In the first words of his thank you speech, he said he would make every effort "to care for the rights of the Beduin in the Negev."
Hadash is expected to win at least three seats again in the coming elections. Next weekend the Hadash central committee will decide if it will again make an alliance with Tibi's Taal party - meaning that Hanin might not get a Knesset seat.
Some 75 percent of Hadash are members of the Israeli Communist party, nevertheless the majority chose Hanna Sweid, a non-communist.
"I'm a communist party member," said one man who asked not to be named, "but I think Sweid can do a better job."
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