Netanyahu falls as Islamic Party rises

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Mansour Abbas, head of the conservative Islamic party Raam, addresses supporters at his campaign headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Tamra on March 23, 2021. AFP - AHMAD GHARABLI

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Benjamin Netanyahu lost his 12-year hold on power in Israel after Israel’s parliament voted in a new coalition government on June 13, 2021; including for the first time ever, a Conservative Islamist party Ra’am, whose chief Mansour Abbas made history as the first Arab Israeli party leader in half a century to sign a deal to sit in an Israeli coalition government.

“This is the first time that an Arab party is part of the process of forming a government. We of course hope that it works and that a government will rise after four rounds of elections,” Abbas said.

The next government is not going to be a typical one for the citizens of the state of Israel, especially for members of the Palestinian Arab minority, who are 21% of Israel’s population. This is the first time that Zionist political parties forming the government are including an Arab party in their coalition; which is the widest one in the Israel’s history, uniting parties from the left to the pro-settlement right.

Abbas said that he had agreed on numerous plans and budgets in Arab Israeli society with his counterparts in the eight parties that toppled Netanyahu. Abbas promised that many of the benefits would flow to the Negev region in southern Israel. Ra’am’s base is among the traditional Bedouin communities in the Negev desert. Ra’am said that the so-called change bloc agreed to over NIS 53 billion ($16.3 billion) in budgets and government development plans for Arab society.

According to a statement by the Islamist party, Bennett and Lapid pledged NIS 30 billion over five years in unspecified economic development funds, as well as another NIS 2.5 million ($770,000) to fight violence and organized crime in Arab society. Another NIS 20 million ($6 million) will be invested over the next 10 years to fix crumbling infrastructure in Arab cities and towns, Ra’am said. Three Bedouin unrecognized villages — Abda, Khashm al-Zena, and Rakhma — are set to be legalized in a government decision.

For decades, Arab Israeli parties have almost always remained on the outside of the decision-making process in Israeli politics. Jewish parties shunned them as extremists, while they themselves were often skeptical of joining an Israeli government they deem treats them as second class citizens and oppresses Palestinians.

Under Abbas, Ra’am in recent months began to blaze a different path, openly working with Netanyahu’s government. After leaving the Joint List of Arab parties, Ra’am ran alone on a platform of being willing to affect change from the inside by being open to joining a government, with the goal of achieving tangible policy advancements for his community.

The fiction that seeks to characterize the only democracy in the Middle East as morally equivalent to apartheid-era South Africa has gained traction in the media. This false analogy that demonizes life in Israel is a propaganda talking point rather than a serious argument.

When Israel’s new government took office, including the United Arab List (Ra’am) headed by Mansour Abbas, the idea that the Jewish state treats its non-Jewish minorities by a different legal standard stands exposed as a lie.

The decision of Abbas to run separately from the other Arab parties in the last election was rooted in his belief that Israeli Arabs needed their political representatives to prioritize their well-being and interests over Palestinian nationalist goals. Abbas didn’t become a Zionist, but he seems to have grasped the illogic of Israeli Arabs being the dupes of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

All this follows an amazing poll published on April 4, 2021 that found 48 percent of Israelis now back forming a government with the outside support of Arab parties, showing public feeling has more than doubled to the idea; compared to where it was just 14 months ago; when only 23% of Jewish voters backed the idea.

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Voice Index for March survey found that in the wake of four inconclusive elections for the Knesset in two years, and which in the last election has left one Arab Islamic party in a realistic kingmaker position; Israelis need to think of new paths for the future.

The Islamist Ra’am party is being courted by both sides to help tip the balance with the four seats it controls. Ahead of the recent elections, Ra’am split off from the Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab leftist parties that had long represented the Arab community in the Knesset.

Among supporters of specific parties, those on the left and in the center tended to have a majority in favor of a government that relies on Arab parties, with support dropping below half as ideology tended toward the right and religious parties. However, even the Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism supporters were 52% in favor of Arab party support.

When the Muslim Ra’am party makes itself part of a political coalition government it will be a very important step toward the 2,700-year-old vision of Prophet Isaiah that: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians will go to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

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Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Los Angeles, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 450+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms’ and “Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari”.

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