The missed opportunity for those left on the Israeli Left – opinion

Israel needs a vibrant and kicking Left based on partnership and equality.

Left wing Israelis hold sign stated "we want a democratic Israel" at a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in support of the Supreme Court in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2019 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Left wing Israelis hold sign stated "we want a democratic Israel" at a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in support of the Supreme Court in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2019
There was a brief moment last week when it appeared that the small left wing in Israel’s politics could have actually had a chance of real influence. The “black flag movement” of protest against the breach of the Supreme Court’s decision to force the Knesset to choose a new speaker without delay brought together a new coalition of determination to proceed with a move to use a momentary majority to pass legislation that would have prevented Benjamin Netanyahu from continuing to serve as prime minister as long as he had serious indictments over him.
That moment passed as swiftly as it appeared with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s capitulations to Netanyahu’s magical political moves. Gantz caved in and granted Netanyahu the keys to continue on as prime minister despite campaign promises in three consecutive elections in which he promised the voters that he would not sit in a government under Netanyahu as long as Netanyahu has not been found innocent of crimes against the public.
For those (few) of us remaining on the Left in Israel, it seems that we have come to realize that Labor and Meretz have finished their roles in Israeli politics. Neither of them will be electable in future elections. As a result of the anti-Arab positions taken by most of the political leaders in Israel, led by Netanyahu, but also supported by the so-called “center,” led by Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, in which they voiced positions that delegitimized the leadership of the Arab citizens of Israel, thereby de-legitimizing 20% of the voters, there is a newfound call for the creation of a new Jewish-Arab joint political party.
This call has been present for years but very few of us on the so-called “Zionist Left” were able to create any substantial coalition within the camp to actually materialize this vision. There was a small group within Meretz that worked to turn the party into a joint Arab-Jewish party, but that would mean de-Zionizing the political platform, and even the main leadership of Meretz opposed that, either for what they believed were “electoral concerns” or out of ideological concerns.
There cannot be a truly joint Arab-Jewish political movement in Israel that does not perceive Israel as being a country of all of its citizens on an equal basis. It is possible for Israel to be recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people but it must also be the state of all of its citizens. The expression of the Jewishness of the state would be primarily in preserving the right of Jews from around the world to make aliyah.
Additionally, as long as there is a clear Jewish majority, the Jewish culture, including holidays would be observed as national holidays.
This would be possible and acceptable if the occupation over the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza came to an end, and the Palestinian state that would rise would also have a right of return to Palestine for Palestinians from around the world.
Palestine would also have to provide full equality for its Jewish citizens, assuming that there would be a possibility for Jews to be citizens of Palestine. This may all sound very theoretical, but it is necessary to discuss this and to find agreement, if the idea of a joint Jewish-Arab political movement could become a reality in Israel today.
The additional challenge is a practical one. Why would Arab citizens of Israel join a joint Arab-Jewish party after the success of the Joint List already representing some 90% of the Arab voters?
It may be more feasible for the four Arab parties that make up the Joint List to become one political party and then to open the doors to register Jewish voters. If that were to happen, then Jewish candidates and voters could participate in electing the slate in the next elections and also for shaping the political platform of that party.
If the only option for creating a joint Jewish-Arab party is to begin from the beginning, then certain principles will have to be defined and accepted for it to become a feasible, viable political option. One of those principles would have to be the genuine joint nature of the list. Even though the Arab citizens of Israel are only 20% of the population, a joint list should strive to be half Arab and half Jewish, and the placement on a future slate should be “zipper like” – an Arab candidate followed by a Jewish candidate and so on.
The focus of the party would be on achieving full equality for all of Israel’s citizens and of course on ending the occupation and making peace with the Palestinians and all other Arab countries. To achieve that without a lot of internal debate, the guiding principles can easily be found in the Arab Peace Initiative, which was issued 18 years ago.
If Israel’s democracy is to be real, especially during this very challenging time when the democratic aspects of this country are at risk, the challenge of genuine Arab-Jewish partnership is one of the most important tasks that in these times needs to be taken on successfully.
The remnants of the Israeli Left, especially what has been called the Zionist Left needs to reshape its identity and build a new political home. Israel needs a vibrant and kicking Left based on partnership and equality. We who are still left on the Left need a new political home.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available in Israel and Palestine.