(photo credit: Associated Press)
Newly released video footage showing Balad MK Haneen Zoabi’s activism on board the Mavi Marmara, while less conclusive than claimed in parts of the Hebrew media, has sparked understandable controversy and outrage. Once again the loyalty of Arab Israeli politicians has come under scrutiny. But the case of Zoabi raises a fundamental question about the radicalization of Arab Israeli politics: Does it further Arab Israeli interests? The answer: Hardly.
Arab MKs were not always extremists. In the first years after the establishment of the State of Israel, Arab parties such as the Democratic List of Israeli Arabs, Progress and Labor (Kidma Va’Avodah) and Agriculture and Development (Hakla’ut Ve’hitpatchut) regularly formed alliances with the ruling Mapai in an attempt to maximize political clout.
The 1950s and 1960s were a difficult time for Arab Israelis. After the attempt to snuff out the nascent Jewish state in the War of Independence failed, many had their land expropriated to make room for the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jewish refugees from Muslim countries who were expelled after the creation of the state. Some 150,000 Arab Israelis who remained in Israel after the war lived under military rule until 1966, during which time they needed special permits to travel and were kept under tight security surveillance. Yet this did not prevent Arab parties from forming political ties with government coalitions.
The Six Day War sparked the radicalization that has deepened since. Ties were bolstered with the “occupied” West Bank, with its emerging Palestinian irredentism and Muslim centers in Nablus and Hebron. A watershed event for Arab Israelis was the March 1976 Arab riots against land expropriation that left seven Arabs dead and later became known as Land Day. In parallel, the Israeli political leadership moved to the right with the 1977 rise of the Likud, which chose to form coalitions with haredi and right-wing parties. It made the mistake of marginalizing Arab parties.
In 1992, with Labor’s return to power under Yitzhak Rabin, Arab political parties were once again courted, and provided support from outside the government for the passage of the Oslo Accords. In return, Arab politicians obtained significant benefits for their constituents, such as more equal access to health care and child allowances, as well as beefed-up budgets for Arab municipalities. The Rabin government was attacked from the Right as illegitimate because it depended on Arab votes. And the failure of the Oslo Accords and the waves of Palestinian terror that followed seemed to represent vindication for many of Rabin’s critics.
Neither the 1996 Netanyahu government nor the 1999 Barak government integrated Arab parties, even though 95 percent of the Arab vote supported Ehud Barak in direct elections for prime minister. Then came the October 2000 riots, which left 13 Arab Israelis dead at the start of the second intifada – an event that further underlined Arab Israelis’ increasing identification with the Palestinian people. In 2001, Arabs boycotted elections en masse.
In recent years, the political activities of Arab MKs have been characterized by growing extremism. To take only a few cases in point, Azmi Bishara (Balad) fled Israel after he was accused of spying for Hizbullah. In January, Bishara’s replacement, Said Nafa, was stripped of parliamentary immunity after reportedly meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. In April, six Arab MKs met with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
ARAB ISRAELIS enjoy equal voting rights, equal press freedoms, freedoms of religion and of speech and of assembly, and more. But they have legitimate demands. Compared to Jews, they lack equal educational and job opportunities, they earn less, they live in more crowded conditions, and proportionately more are below the poverty line.
But their Knesset representatives will not achieve more equality for
their people by associating with the likes of Hizbullah and Hamas.
Rather, Arab MKs can, and should, push for legislation that improves
their constituents’ lot through constructive parliamentary activities.
Jewish parliamentarians should consider ways to build ties with their
Arab counterparts, instead of threatening to strip them of benefits or
stymieing their legislation.
And instead of wasting their time, and worse, with terrorists who plot
to destroy Israel, Arab MKs should come to the realization that Israel
is here to stay and make the best of it. Their electorate should reject
those who prove incapable of doing so