Hadash courts Jewish vote at Reform synagogue

"We have no stand on Zionism. There are people in our party who are Zionists and there are people who are anti-Zionists."

hadash 298 (photo credit: Orly Halpern)
hadash 298
(photo credit: Orly Halpern)
Though many consider Hadash to be an "Arab party," Jewish and Arab leaders from the movement made a campaign stop at the Kol Haneshama Synagogue in Jerusalem Tuesday. Approximately 150 Jews gathered at the Progressive (Reform) synagogue to hear about the party, which does not take a position on Zionism. In front of the ark sat Dov Khenin, a Jewish human rights lawyer and environmentalist, Khulood Badawi, the party's No. 3 and a well-known young female Arab political and human rights activist, and Dr. Ishai Menuchin, founder of the Yesh Gvul soldier refusenik organization and No. 9 on the party's candidate list. The audience, however, was not interested in their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The party was the first to call for a two-state solution. Instead, the three Hadash members answered questions on everything from scientific testing on animals and legalizing abortion, to relations with Hamas and attitudes toward the gay community. Hadash, a Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace, was established by the Israeli Communist Party in 1977. The Communist Party still exists, within Hadash. Hadash members and voters number many people who are neither communist nor Zionist. A minority of the Communist Party members - including MK Issam Mahoul and core Jewish members such as Tamar Gozansky and Khenin - want to retain communist values and the Jewish-Arab face of the party. The party's platform is based on socialist ideals, equality for all citizens and an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. "We are not an ideological movement," Khenin said when asked about the party's views on Zionism. "We have no stand on Zionism. There are people in our party who are Zionists and there are people who are anti-Zionists." The audience was filled with Jews of all ages and all political persuasions. Some were particularly in what the Arab representatives had to say. Khenin did not get a seat in the outgoing Knesset because Hadash gave the third position on its list to MK Ahmed Tibi, the head of the Ta'al party. Hadash is expected to win at least that many mandates in the upcoming election. However, this time it is running alone, is an effort to attract more Jewish voters. It remains to be seen if that decision will cost the party seats because of the loss of votes Tibi would have brought or if it will expand its Jewish voter base. Ta'al is running together with the United Arab List. "I came to hear Hanna Sweid because he really impressed me on TV," said Petr Lehahn, a moustachioed 70-year-old pensioner, who said ending the occupation, returning to the pre-67 borders, and giving full rights to all citizens are his three most important considerations in choosing a party. But Sweid was unable to come. Sweid, who is not a communist party member, won the party's No. 2 slot in the recent primary, pushing out Mahoul, a well-known Arab communist politician, even though about 75 percent of Hadash faction members are also members of the Israeli Communist party. Carl Perkal, an American-Israeli living in Jerusalem, was pleased to hear Badawi. "I wanted to hear what the Arab representatives think about living with Jews," he said, adding that Badawi had convinced him that there is a real desire to live together in peace and cooperation. All three members of the panel told the audience that they support gay rights. However, Badawi said she concentrates more on "encouraging Arab women to go to university," and will fight the battle for gay rights afterward. Asked about Hamas, Khenin said he supports negotiating with the Palestinians through the PLO and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. There is still a partner for achieving a two-state solution, he said. Menuchin said, "It is about time that Israel act like a partner." On abortion, Khenin said, "A woman has a right to her body," and the law should be framed accordingly. He also said efforts should be made in to decrease the abuse of animals for research purposes. The three Hadash members wore red ribbons, which Hadash has adopted as their new campaign symbol, in parallel to the orange that the anti-disengagement movement adopted. "Put them on your car antennas," they told the audience. Neta Ram, an 18-year-old from Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar who is spending a year in Jerusalem working at schools in poor neighborhoods, came with a group of her colleagues. "This is my first vote," she said. "I want it to be significant. I think this is a party that supports most of what we do."