Thursday, September 19, 2019

Israel's Arab Parties are Kicking the Door Down

The second Israeli election of 2019 is now in the books. Ballots are still being counted, but we can be almost entirely sure that when all is said and done, the Joint List -- a unified bloc of Israel's Arab parties (plus the Israeli communist party, which represents both Jews and Arabs) will be Israel's third largest party. Right now, the JL has won 13 seats in the Knesset (Blue & White is in the lead with 33, followed by Likud with 31; the Sephardic-religious party Shas is in fourth with 8).

This is a superb showing for the Arab bloc, which overcame vicious incitement and suppression efforts, and they have not been hesitant to dunk on Netanyahu in celebration (when Netanyahu asked what ministerial positions Blue & White promised the JL, party leader Ayman Odeh replied "The Minister of Affairs of Sending You Home.").

And I think this is actually even a bigger deal than many are letting on. Historically, Arab parties have not sat in government -- both because they've refused and because the Jewish parties have refused to sit with them. It is unlikely that this will change this time around -- though there remains a chance that JL could support a Blue & White coalition from outside the government.

Yet we are starting to see some cracks. Labor has explicitly urged B&W leader Benny Gantz invite the Arab parties to the negotiating table to potentially join a coalition, and apparently Gantz and Odeh will be having a meeting. Whereas in April the Arab parties didn't recommend anyone for Prime Minister, now there are some indications they may back Gantz -- they've at least put out a list of commitments they want from Blue & White on issues ranging from restarting the Israeli/Palestinian peace process to fighting crime in Arab neighborhoods.

But the most likely outcome of coalition negotiations is probably a "unity government" with both Blue & White and Likud joining a few smaller parties. In that universe, the Joint List -- as the largest party not in government -- would become leader of the opposition; a position which, ironically, would give them unprecedented access and influence within Israel's government.

All of this --  the feting for coalitions, the potential kingmaker status, the position as presumptive leaders of the opposition -- is a result of one thing: Arabs turning out to vote. I've noted for awhile now that the "left" (or at least "not-right") bloc doesn't have a plausible route to power in Israel any more that doesn't go through the Arab community, and results like these will impress that fact on people's minds. Labor is starting to get it, Gantz is starting to get it, and the Arab parties themselves are certainly starting to get it.

And this is how change happens. Forget waiting for the majority feel magnanimous. Kick the door down and make yourself a political force to be reckoned with. Go back and read Carmichael and Hamilton's Black Power -- you make yourself into an indispensable voting bloc whose support is necessary to prevailing in a given election, and you can extract a lot of goods even in the most hostile society.

The Joint List is in a position of real power right now. They've earned it. Time to see how they use it.

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