Israel's Jewish-Arab partnership will succeed against all odds - opinion

It isn’t too late to give a real chance to Arab-Jewish partnership, to reach out to the Arab community and bring an agenda of partnership to the forefront of Israeli politics as well. 

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, seen at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on April 26, 2021.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, seen at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on April 26, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

On April 16, The Jerusalem Post published an article by MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, titled “Not equal partnership, but ulterior agenda.” The spirit of the article was that the political partnership between Jews and Arabs in Israel is doomed. Her evidence? Among other qualms, the coalition government of which she was a part of granted benefits to IDF soldiers, and that Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed – an event which had nothing to do with the coalition.

Whatever one thinks of these issues, none of them shows that the Jewish-Arab partnership is doomed. In fact, a closer look at rising trends shows the opposite of what Zoabi claimed, despite political rhetoric. The Jewish-Arab partnership is only beginning, if both sides will foster voices of partnership rather than voices of division like Zoabi

One slogan which has perhaps become the slogan of this election campaign is, “the experiment failed,” referring to a government coalition that includes an Arab party and Arab Knesset members like Zoabi. But a government that allows true partnership between Jews and Arabs begins with both sides coming to the middle and recognizing that it doesn’t matter what our religions and ethnicities are, because we are all citizens of the State of Israel and we are all equal under the law. 

Reading Zoabi’s examples of why Jewish-Arab partnership is doomed, one can’t help but see her open hostility to Israel in the first place. Why oppose the granting of benefits to soldiers who protect Arabs and Jews in Israel alike? Why bring up Abu Akleh when it has already been proven that it isn’t possible to determine who is to blame for her death, and when it is already known that she was not shot intentionally?

Zoabi’s positions prove her hostility toward the Jewish-Arab partnership and demonstrate her commitment to a nationalist Palestinian narrative rather than a sincere concern for Israeli Arabs, much like we’ve seen from the politicians of the Joint List for decades. When Arab Knesset members in such positions approach lawmaking with an anti-Israel agenda, there is no doubt that a partnership cannot be built, because they aren’t sincerely trying to fix our communities and advance the integration and social equality of Arabs in Israel.

 Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voting at the Knesset on June 6, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

In my conversations with fellow Arab Israelis, I hear from all sides the desire for representatives who will actually act on behalf of their community. Arab Israelis are hungry for leadership that will advance the integration and advancement of Arabs in Israel out of true partnership.

Such a partnership is made with voices that promote a new movement in Arab Israeli society – those who proudly say, we are citizens of the country, proud to be Arabs, and proud to be Israelis. Voices that say, we are tired of dealing with Ramallah, Gaza and Jenin, it is time to take care of Shfaram, Rahat and Taybeh. Voices that say unequivocally that we strongly oppose the terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. And beyond just talking, the time has come for meaningful action. 

UNFORTUNATELY, today there are no Arab representatives in the Knesset who are able to meet this desire from our community, including Zoabi. This is the reason that the “experiment” of partnership in the government failed, if you can even describe it that way – because it never really began.

Mansour Abbas took a brave step in the right direction, but it was not enough and in many tests throughout the last year, the Ra’am party failed. There is a need for new Arab leadership that will promote genuine partnership, leadership that with time can become a worthy alternative to the status quo of failed politicians representing the Arab community, but it won’t happen overnight. 

The short-term solution for the next government should come from the existing parties. Currently, none of the parties has such Arab representation in the realistic positions, and some of them do not have Arab representation at all on their lists.

Whether from Jewish or Arab parties, it isn’t too late to give a real chance to Arab-Jewish partnership, to reach out to the Arab community and bring an agenda of partnership to the forefront of Israeli politics as well. 

Of course, there are extremist voices on both sides – including some members of the Knesset. But the vast majority of Israel’s Arab community wants to live together in partnership. We can achieve a mutually beneficial partnership in this country for Arabs and Jews alike, no matter how unrealistic members of Knesset like Zoabi would like to make it seem. 

Our community has been deprived of true representation by our own so-called leaders for far too long, and with every election, we see the costs of poor leadership. A change is already brewing in Arab Israeli society.

As Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” Reading Zoabi’s article, you’d think we need a miracle for a successful partnership, but the truth is that Arab-Israeli partnership in the long-term isn’t doomed, it is destined for success.

The writer is CEO of Together Vouch for Each Other, an Arab Israeli NGO.