Mohammad Darawshe
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 21, 2012 - 1:00am


Every few years, shortly before a national election, the Knesset's Central Elections Committee is asked to disqualify all or some of the Arab political parties in the running, generally on the grounds that their ideologies threaten the Jewish nature of the state, which, along with denying the democratic nature of the state, is a cause for disqualification. The elections committee, whose makeup is representative of the parliament itself, generally votes to disqualify them, the decision is appealed to the High Court of Justice - and the court, unconvinced that these non-Zionist parties constitute an existential threat to the state, always overturns it.

This year was somewhat different, as the elections committee voted against the motion to disqualify Balad and Ra'am-Tal, but approved a request to ban MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ) from running. Her party has already announced that if the decision is not overturned by the court, they will not run in the elections.

The disqualification of Zuabi and the repetition of the ritual attempt to exclude the Arab parties from the electoral process only serve to boost those elements in Arab society that advocate for separatism, including the boycotting of the political arena. This will translate to a low turnout rate of the Arab minority on election day, possibly even the lowest rate ever.

If fewer than 50 percent of eligible Israeli Arab voters choose to show up at the ballot box (the participation figure in 2009 was 53.4 percent ), it will be understood as a ringing lack of confidence among members of that community - which constitutes 20 percent of the country's population - in Israel's democracy. In terms of social cohesion and national stability, this would be close to a catastrophe.

Assuming that a secure and stable society is a shared interest across the entire political spectrum, the participation of a minority in the democratic system is something all Israelis should desire. The Jewish majority should listen to the voices of the Arab minority and integrate its members into the political discourse, even when their opinions - as is only natural in majority-minority relations - are challenging, unpleasant or even distasteful to that majority.

Arab citizens should be involved in public discussions in any forum dealing with core issues or with determining the country's future. An attempt at blanket disqualification of major Arab political parties is an attempt to create a democracy for Jews only. Efforts in that direction can be seen as a direct continuation of the delegitimization of the Arab population - a process that is not confined to excluding them from the political domain, but also includes legislative initiatives that encourage segregation and that seek to condition the granting of basic rights on compliance with obligations toward the state.

What is the goal of those Jewish members of Knesset who support disqualification?

Most of them would apparently prefer to have an Israeli society without Arabs. However, if Arab politicians are banned from running, the result will not be a society without Arabs, but a crippled parliament with no real Arab representation. The significance of this will be that a large national minority will not be represented in decision-making processes or in political discourse, even from the opposition benches.

Does anyone imagine that, following the disqualification of MK Zuabi, which in effect means the disqualification of Balad unless the Supreme Court intervenes, their supporters will "see the light" and become Zionist overnight? Neither the followers nor their ideas are likely to disappear. Instead of attempting to shut down their voices, it's time to listen, and reach consensus with them on as many issues as possible.

Participation in elections is the subject of a fierce debate within Arab society. Those who advocate a boycott argue that by voting, all they are doing is providing a fig leaf for what they call "the false Israeli democracy." They criticize the Arab Knesset members for even taking part in what they see as a formalistic and artificial democratic system that does nothing to serve Arab voters.

The Arab Knesset members represent the majority of the Arab public who choose to participate in Israeli society, including in the political process. Even if MK Zuabi, the first Arab woman to ever serve in the Knesset for an Arab party, is perceived as defiant, she is an elected representative who takes part in the political arena and this decision will only push her supporters into the arms of isolationist streams that have no interest in a shared future with Jewish Israelis.

Israeli society can all too easily become a democracy for Jews only. Such a democracy would be based on a political system that can contain only members of the minority group who identify with, or at least accept, the Zionist ethos in its various versions. This would be a defective political system rendered meaningless by its failure to allow for the expression of minority voices.

Israeli Jews often tend to focus on activities and comments by Arab MKs they regard as combative, irritating or challenging. However, if the Arab public as a whole is forced to reach the conclusion that the political arena is no longer relevant to them, the Jewish majority may well find itself longing for these same members of Knesset.

Amnon Be'eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe are the co-executive directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which works to promote integration and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.


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