When I was younger, I had many debates with university friends about the Arab parties in the Israeli parliament (known as the Knesset). There have always been several Arab parties in each election competing for our votes, and when we discuss their success or failure at least one person would always say: “If only the Arab parties would unite and compete as one unit, we would be more powerful!” This year, they did. All of the Arab parties (Hadash, Balad, Islamic Movement, and Ta’al) decided to merge and run for elections under the United Arab List (UAL) - or Hadash and the Arab Parties.
Last March, Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Affairs Minister) initiated a law that increased the electoral threshold for the upcoming elections as a way to block the Arab parties from running in the upcoming Knesset. This meant that a party must have votes equivalent to 4 out of 120 parliamentary seats in order to qualify (the percentage increased from 2% to 3.25%). As a result of this move, the Arab parties were left with little choice but to unite with the help of a peace committee that negotiated the conditions of their unity.
According to Haaretz, the merger will increase the UAL’s voting percentage by 10%. Recent polls estimate that the UAL will gain somewhere between 10 to 14 seats, making it the fourth largest party seated in the Knesset. Ironically, Lieberman’s party is struggling to remain in the running due to his own law. Recent corruption charges have caused his party to shrink dramatically and lose supporters.
The decision of the parties to run together is a new move and the general public does not know how to digest it. This has not happened before and the public is not sure of its outcome. In this article I will provide a list of arguments that I have heard from Arabs in Israel relating to the unification of the Arab parties, and I will present a list of pros and cons for each argument:
1.The public has much mistrust in the MKs’ (members of Knesset) leadership for the last decade, and they feel the current leaders have failed to represent their needs in the Knesset.
2.The Arab MKs functioning in the Knesset have been inefficient at preventing laws and policies; thus the state has legislated more discriminatory policies against Arab citizens.Therefore, there is some skepticism regarding the MKs’ ability to halt more discriminatory policies.
3.In order to be a MK in Israel, each member has to pledge allegiance to the state of Israel. By doing so, they adhere to its policies and character to some degree.
4.The members of the UAL come from varying ideologies and worldviews - a national, religious, and socialist one - and therefore many people question their decision making and cooperation mechanisms. How will they work together despite their obvious differences?
5.Some claim that the merge was a necessary move only to guarantee the MKs’ political positions and when push comes to shove, each member will seek their own agenda.
1.The whole country feels a sense of weak leadership. Netanyahu has been the prime minister for several candidacies, partly because there has not been a strong opponent to defeat him. This should not make us lose hope in our needs and demands.
2.Whether or not the parties had to unite, they have taken up the challenge in light of an outside threat. We should give them a chance.
3.If we do not fight the discriminatory system from within, how are we expected to change it? As citizens of Israel, we too adhere to its policies and character to some degree.
4.Yes, the members of the party do come from different ideologies, but they face a greater danger that demands their unity. They have shown leadership and put their differences aside. Are we willing to follow?
5.It might be that they are trying to guarantee the survival of their political positions, but how would that be different if they were running as separate parties?
As non-Jews living in Israel, we are faced with a discriminatory system that favors Jews. Furthermore, our connection to the Palestinian people puts us in a questioned position to the Jewish citizens, and we are perceived as traitors or potential traitors.
As Christians, there are voices that try to change our identity to Arameans as a way to separate us from our Arab identity, and particularly our Palestinian heritage in the hope that it would produce a better relationship with the state. They have associated themselves with Netanyahu’s party and other right-wing parties. Arameans, however, might face the same discrimination as non-Jews. The current instability and rise of radicalism in neighboring countries are causing us to feel pressure to accept the system we live in. According to this claim, it is better to be safe than equal.
As evangelicals, we are also facing theological pressures regarding our political orientation. Some churches and institutions with Zionist views are trying to pressure us to vote for a right-wing political ideology. Similarly our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters have a Zionist understanding of their faith, and many are aligned with Zionist right-wing parties. Due to our relationship with Messianic Jews, some have suggested we share their political views.
On the other hand, there are also pressures that are trying to sway us to a left-wing political orientation. Our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank continue to suffer under the Israeli occupation and some of us believe it is a priority to end the occupation and establish a long-lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Another theological pressure we are influenced by is one that calls us to separate ourselves from politics. Politics is not for evangelicals because we should not engage in earthly matters. There is sin in the political parties, and therefore, we should not take part in the elections at all. These pressures are very dangerous because our faith has authority over all aspects of life, and we are called to be ambassadors of Christ in politics as well. If we do not have representation then someone else will make decisions on our behalf.
So, how are we as evangelicals expected to vote in the upcoming elections?
1.I think that it is essential that we exercise our right to vote. We should not be quick to dismiss taking part in voting, running or advocating for a political party. One vote could determine if a party is represented in the parliament or not.
2.Furthermore, in a country where we experience discrimination at varying levels, voting is probably one of the only areas where our voice is equal to any other.
3.We have access to information freely, and I advise that we be responsible citizens and learn more about each party’s vision and achievements by visiting their official websites and news channels.
4.Know what your needs are, and find a party that fits your needs. Are you seeking a party that calls for peace and equality or a party that is calling for maintaining the status quo?
5.We only have two options: either we take a stand and pursue equality or we accept our status as second class citizens.
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