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It is indeed clear that what is left of the Left is not only small, it is very fragmented. Until we get to the day on February 4, 2021, when political parties running in the election have to present their lists, we will see the birth and death of several new attempts at creating the next new thing for the center-left in Israel. Most of those attempts will be focused on personalities and not on ideas. There will be no great differences between most of the newly formed “atmospheric” political parties all aiming at the “anyone but Bibi” camp. That is why by the time they have to submit their final lists of names in their party, there will be a lot of jockeying for status, based on privately financed surveys seeking to determine whose face and personality have a better chance of bringing votes. That is how Israeli politics work in these times.
Gone are the ideological discussions and debates on the key policy issues facing the country. The Palestinian issue is gone as well as social economic policy issues. The issues concerning the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are only discussed in Arab society by the Arab political parties, even though one of every five Israelis is an Arab. The debate on social-economic policies is limited to the failures or the successes of the past governments, not really on the issues, world views, policy decisions and policy options. The political debate in Israel has been flattened and shallowed greatly, signified by the fact that the leading political party in Israel, the Likud, doesn’t even present a political platform.
The way to get beyond slogans and shallow political propaganda is by challenging ourselves to create a new paradigm of politics that will seriously confront the reality of what Israel has become. The new political prototype must be one that presents a new vision of what we believe the State of Israel needs to become.
The main question that needs to be addressed is how we create a genuine shared society in Israel that truly reflects the population and understands the basis of a shared society is that we all belong here and we are all equal.
The core issue that focuses the political debate we must have is the urgency in passing a Basic Law: Equality. The assumption of equality based on the principles incorporated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence do not exist in the reality of Israel 2021. Israel is an extremely divided society with social gaps expanding very much along ethnic-religious-identity lines. There is a stated principle in Israel of equality under the law, but that is much more of a myth that we tell ourselves than the reality of our citizens’ lives.
We tell ourselves that the Nation-State Law is justified because it makes certain the right of the Jewish people to define itself as a national collective with the right of self-determination, but in reality by legislating: “The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
Without defining the borders of the State of Israel, we ignore the existence of another people living in the Land of Israel and deny them the right to self-determination. This is compounded by the fact that we extend our laws de facto to hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jewish citizens who are living in territories beyond the recognized borders of the State of Israel, and grant them a superior privileged status to that of the Palestinians living in the same part of the Land of Israel, also known as Palestine.
IN ADDITION to the denial of so many basic rights to the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens is entrenched within our legal, political, social and economic systems. Too many of Israel’s Arab communities look too much like Brazil’s shameful favelas. The overwhelming majority of poverty in the State of Israel is within Arab communities along with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities.
There is additional discrimination in Israel against other Jewish communities that are not in the economic center of the country. Israel’s Jewish communities in the periphery may have improved physically over the past years, and many have been brought closer to the center of the country through improve mass transportation systems, but the social and economic gaps between them and the center are intolerable.
We must fight for equality for all in Israel. A multi-ethnic, Jewish-Arab, Left party needs to be identified with the struggles for social justice, equality, worker’s rights, women’s rights, the LGBTQ communities’ rights, and haredim who live in poverty, providing a voice and a home for all people facing discrimination. At the same time and as part of the same struggle, we must refocus attention on the inadmissibility and the injustice of a military occupation denying millions of non-citizens political, human, economic and social rights. These are all part of the same calling card that we need to create and present, not through hollow words, or through the falsity of finding a few names to place on a political party list as tokens of what they are supposed to represent.
We need a genuine Jewish-Arab political party. The easiest way to create such a party is for Meretz and Hadash to merge, and from my point of view, I would like to see Ayman Odeh lead the party. But if those two parties do not merge then we need to create something new which is joint Jewish-Arab. That joint party would advocate support for the ongoing regional peace process but would emphasize renewing genuine negotiations with the Palestinians. This party would work for legislating the Basic Law for Equality for all Israelis. It would advocate for a free-market economy based on social democratic values that provide social safety nets and include intensive investments in closing all of the social-economic gaps in the country and taking responsibilities for too many of the social services that have been wrongfully privatized over the past years.
The party would fight against the crimes of terrorism and violence within the Arab communities with all of the State’s abilities and resources necessary to bring the violence to a swift end and to bring the criminals to justice.
This party would support the rule of law and the institutions of law including the appointments of senior Justice Ministry officials and judges in a non-political professional manner. The party would work for limiting the term of office of any prime minister to a maximum of eight years and limiting the size of any government to no more than 18 ministers. The party would also support amending the law so that no candidate for prime minister could hold the office with pending indictments against him.
The ultimate goal of this party would be influence, and therefore it would support joining government coalitions that would advocate shared values. The goal of the party would not be to sit in the opposition but to take a place at the table and share in the responsibilities of government without compromising on its basic and essential values. The time for a joint Jewish-Arab party is now and we have until February 4 to succeed.
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.