Promoting the Arab minority in Israel, which suffers neglect and deprivation, has always been my raison d’être. When, in January 2021, I was placed as Meretz’s fourth candidate for the 24th Knesset, I believed with all my heart that together we would promote the unavoidable and necessary partnership between Jews and Arabs in Israel, paving the way to practicing democracy in real life.
Our campaign emphasized our joint Jewish-Arab partnership. In my inaugural speech, one of the most substantial moments in my life, I vowed to influence and change the Israeli reality and dedicate my work to justice, equality and solidarity in the most profound way.
Moral questions became irrelevant because all that mattered was to block Netanyahu from forming a government, under the catchy slogan “Just Not Bibi.” And so, Meretz’s MKs’ fingers kept voting yes to Jewish supremacy, inside Israel as well as in the occupied territories.
Although the coalition was based on the assumption that core issues would not be addressed and the status quo would be kept, in reality, core issues cannot be avoided. They are integral to governing.
The flag parade at Damascus Gate, banning the display of the Palestinian flag, the citizenship law, benefits for IDF combat soldiers, the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the disgraceful behavior of the police during her funeral and the issue of renewing emergency regulations in the West Bank are all samples of items on the agenda that were eventually reduced to the technical question of how to block Benjamin Netanyahu and keep the anti-Netanyahu coalition alive.
In the name of “Just Not Bibi,” Meretz willingly stripped itself of its core values, no questions asked. It was not seeking equal partners, but rather collaborative Arabs, willing to help keep the coalition alive in return for crumbs, while silently agreeing with the implications of civil injustice.
While I agree Netanyahu is corrupt and creates a threat to Israeli politics, straying off the democratic path and giving in to Jewish supremacy notions also present an imminent threat, maybe even greater. The bottom line is that Netanyahu’s policies and this coalition’s policies did not differ, except for a crucial one – the de facto support of the left-wing Zionist parties of the discrimination of the Arab minority.
I was portrayed, by the press and other coalition members, as a traitor of the partnership, but I merely remained true to my values. If there was a betrayal, it was done by Meretz. The only Israeli party that was ever committed to human rights, betrayed its electorate and replaced human rights with an empty slogan – “Just Not Bibi.”
The epithets I received proved me right. I was supposed to take the role of a collaborator, save the Jewish state from Netanyahu and get rewarded for it. But civic equality was never on the table. This is the real issue and it raises important questions regarding the democratic future of Israel and the possibility of an equal and mutual life.
If the Jewish parties do not see the Arabs as equal partners, is it even possible that Israel will truly act as a democracy? Will equal civil rights ever be the norm in “the only democracy in the Middle East?”
I entered political life believing that a true partnership will act to reduce inequality and promote democracy. I am leaving Meretz with the terrible realization that the only Jewish partner in the Israeli parliament has left the mutual cause of living together as equals. It’s a harsh realization.
As an Arab MK, I cannot represent my community if all I can show for my achievements is some climate crisis-related legislation. I mean, come on, the Arab community is concerned with issues like the surge of violence, insufficient infrastructure and overcrowded graveyards. If within the framework of this “unprecedented partnership” in the “only democracy in the Middle East,” equality can wait, then I am out of the game.
All the holy rage should be referred to Meretz, the former Israeli human rights party, which believes Netanyahu is a bigger threat to democracy than discrimination, separation and inequality. History will prove me right, but what will be the price until we get there?
The writer is an MK in the outgoing Knesset.