7 Reasons I am Voting for the Joint Arab List

1. There is nothing more urgent than Palestinian-led, joint Jewish-Arab political action in Israel-Palestine of 2015. Following this past summer of extreme violence and casual bigotry, the need for Palestinian-led, joint Arab-Jewish anti-racist democratic action is more pronounced and more extreme than ever. This is precisely what the Joint List is emphasizing.

2. It is far too easy for Jews in Israel to completely forget the Palestinians. This past summer’s extreme violence and casual bigotry seem to have been largely forgotten within Jewish Israel, and issues like the occupation, discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and ongoing squalor and suffering in Gaza have barely been mentioned by any of the parties in this election, Left[ish] or Right. Shas, the religious Mizrahi party whose campaign has been confrontational and moving in its direct call for social justice for the poor and marginalized, hasn’t once (that I’ve seen) included Palestinian citizens of Israel -the most marginalized, poor and “invisible” population inside Israel – in their list of “invisible” populations whom they intend to serve. (In Shas Chairman Arieh Deri’s awesome spoken word campaign video, he fails to list a single Arab town in his litany of “invisible” locales inside Israel). And Shas certainly hasn’t touched upon the issue of the millions of Palestinians controlled by Israel who are not citizens of the State. The fact that the consensus is “Put the Arabs aside for now,” at ugly best, and ”What Arabs?” at common worst, strikes me as reason enough to vote for the Joint Arab List. There are more reasons, too.

3. The Joint Arab List includes truly awesome individuals whom I want as public representatives:  

Ahmad Tibi.

Aida Touma-Suliman.

Jamal Zahalka.

Dov Khenin.

Yousef Jabareen.

(And at the unrealistic -but here’s to dreaming- #20: Leah Tzemel!)

4. There are elements of the Joint Arab List that I am uncomfortable with. Creating a truly shared society, and a truly democratic future in this place will necessarily include uncomfortable. Yes. Some of Hanin Zuabi’s statements definitely make me uncomfortable (which is part of democracy, a fact that this country’s “leadership” seems unable or unwilling to understand. Zuabi is by and large a democrat, who is sometimes sympathetic to violence and whose statements occasionally end up serving those to the right of her. In this respect, I think she is much more similar to Isaac Herzog than she is to Baruch Marzel).

I am deeply uncomfortable with Political Islamism and any combination of church/mosque/synagogue and State, and the fact that there is a member of the list who is a bigamist (number 9, Taleb Abu Arar) is a travesty; but as Michael Kaminer wrote for Sikha Mekomit in response to the very legitimate worries vis-a-vis the list (my translation; Hebrew readers can read his piece in full):

“The list definitely includes actors whose views on the subjects of gender justice and the role of religion in public life are problematic. It is firstly important to point out that the list also includes the pro-LGBT, feminist forces in Palestinian society. Aida Touma-Suleiman (number 5 [on the list]) and Hanin Zuabi (number 7) are both well-known for their feminist struggle, and also their stances alongside LGBT struggles. Likewise, Hadash, Balad and Ta’al [three of the four parties that make up the Joint List; the fourth, Ra’am, is the party partially comprised of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement -MRZ] all struggle against violence against women in Arab society, and the [Israeli] police’s indifference to the subject. Hadash and Balad are declaredly secular parties, which struggle against the encroachment of religion on the public space in the Arab sphere inside of Israel, and against the warping of national Palestinian discourse into religious discourse. In my opinion, the existence of this wide, rich range of views inside of the Joint List points to the Arab public’s readiness for wide-reaching social changes in the field of gender relations and the role of religion in the public sphere.”

5. This is what voting comfortable looks like: Oy vey. Mostly Ashkenazi, mostly secular, mostly kind, mostly timid, a little Zionist, a little Leftist, a little critical of the war, a little apologetic about its criticism, [still] trying to make change from within. I say this with love for my friends who support Meretz, and with  support for many individual members of the Meretz party. But Israel-Palestine is too far past any place of timid, incremental [basically]-Jewish-only change. Even if the Zionist Union forms a coalition (which is unlikely), such a coalition will have no chance – and likely no real interest – in ending the occupation and solving the deepest problems we face as a society today.

6. Pessimism? No. Optimism. I’ll state the final sentence of #5 even more forcefully: Internal Israeli politics will not and cannot end the occupation. The occupation will end primarily as a result of Palestinian resistance and international intervention. Which doesn’t mean that Israelis don’t have a role to play. The role of anti-Occupation Israelis, at this juncture in history, is to build our communities and infrastructures, keep chipping away at the systems of oppression, and to lend our support to those Palestinian and international forces truly committed to building a democratic, equal future in this place. And here, suddenly, historically, there is a large scale Palestinian force committed to doing just that. It’s called The Joint Arab List. We have an incredible opportunity to lend our support to this list and their efforts. How could we not?

As Sameh Salaymeh Aghbariya wrote for Sikha Memomit (my translation), in her report on the Joint List’s opening event last week, and the speech given by the list’s Number 1, the heretofore relatively unknown (at least in the Jewish Israeli sector) Ayman Odeh:

”Oudeh called on the audience to open their hearts and minds: ‘We are the real and ethical alternative. The elderly woman in intensive care, the average Mizrahi, the poor Ethiopian, won’t vote for us; they may not have even heard of us. But we will have 15 pure mandates for dedicated to peace, solidarity, justice and democracy. We are the real alternative. We are the future.’

I am aware of the fact that this event was a sort of overdose of optimism. Unexplained and detached from the harsh reality outside. But in light of all of rising intimidation and incitement and racism, I saw in the eyes of the event’s attendees a spark of hope. Who knows, perhaps the dream of real partnership between Jewish and Arab citizens might still be realized.”

(Thank heavens and +972 and Just Vision and Activestills for Sikha Mekomit. A quick note on language: I am writing this post in English, as my primary audience is English-speaking Israelis planning on voting in this next election. For those for whom Hebrew is preferred, I’d recommend reading on Sikha Mekomit: Sameh Salaymeh‘s reporting piece, Michael Kaminer‘s piece, another piece by Haggai Matar against the so called “Pragmatic Vote” and then just browsing around).

[Update: 4:12 PM. Sameh Salaymeh’s piece is now out in English as well, on the indispensable +972 Magazine].

7. Symbolism and internal orientation. On March 18th, the results will be in. Will the Joint Arab List have gotten more votes than Naftali Bennet’s terrifying, far-right Populism? I hope so. Will Palestinian citizens of Israel from Haifa and Jaffa and Akka go on the website that tells you the percentages of votes in each city and see that tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis voted the same way they did in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? I hope so. And perhaps most importantly of all, will those of us who cast our vote for the Joint Arab List feel some sort of spiritual and political realignment as participants, as critically engaged followers, as supporters rather than leaders in a Palestinian-led initiative for freedom and equality for all?

I hope so.