Ahmad Tibi is the most senior Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, having served since 1999, and is arguably one of the most rebellious and controversial opposition members.
Tibi has set out to block Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election as prime minister in the 2019 Israel General Election. In his election campaign slogan, Netanyahu (a.k.a. Bibi) actually used Tibi to scaremonger the Israeli public into voting for his Liked party, warning that it’s either him, Bibi, or Tibi.
A gynaecologist, Tibi was once an advisor to Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and was involved in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He served in the Israeli Knesset as a representative of some 20% of Israel’s population, who are of Palestinian descent, alongside members like Haneen Zoabi and Ayman Odeh.
These Arab-Israeli politicians – as Israel refers to them – ran in the 2015 Israeli General Election under the Joint List alliance, which united Israel’s Arab-dominated political parties making them the third largest faction in the Knesset. The alliance was an effort to ensure the four Arab-dominated parties met the minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset.
“They want us weak and divided, but we will be strong together.” – Aymen Odeh
In 2019, Ahmed Tibi broke away from the alliance with his party, Ta’al (the Arab Movement for Renewal), bringing an end to the Joint List. Later, Tibi announced he would be running on a joint ticket for the 9 April 2019 election with Hadash (Al-Jabha), led by Ayman Odeh.
The two boast a long political career and are running under the slogan “droves” – reclaiming the controversial phrase used against the Palestinian community in Israel by Netanyahu during his 2015 election campaign.
So where do Israeli-Arab politicians stand in Israel?
The Hadash-Ta’al alliance has a political interest in blocking the expansion of right-wing parties in Israel, like Netanyahu’s Likud, in an effort to serve the interests of the national indigenous community of Palestinians who face discrimination and systematic exclusion, as well as call for the end of the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
To Arab-Israeli parties, the Israeli occupation and the illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank must end.
“If the government follows through on its desires to annex the West Bank without providing full equal rights to its Palestinian residents,” Odeh says, “it won’t be a new Nakba. It will be the continuation of one that has never fully ended. We choose peace and you choose apartheid.”
He also says that Israel needs to take responsibility for Gaza. “The problem is the occupying state – Israel. They closed Gaza, threw the key into the sea and said ‘We’re not responsible’.” – Aymen Odeh
Both Hadash and Ta’al strongly oppose US President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the Holy City as Israel’s capital, disregarding any Palestinian claim to the city. Tibi described the embassy move as “a slap to all Arabs” and said Jerusalem will “remain Arab and Palestinian with its churches, mosques and alleys”.
But most importantly, Arab-Israeli parties have jointly and strongly condemned the Nation-State Law passed in the Knesset in 2018, which defines Israel as ‘the national home of the Jewish people’, effectively denying Palestinians their right to self-determination and rendering them second class citizens.
#IsraElex19: Israeli Elections 2019
Hadash and Ta’al are not the only predominantly Arab-Israeli parties running this election. Another Arab joint slate, Ra’am-Balad, is also running under the leadership of Mansour Abbas.
Joint List or not, Arab-Israeli politicians are all striving to serve the interests of Israel’s Palestinian population, by lobbying for equality for the Palestinian citizens, including fair distribution of resources, equal access to planning permits and job opportunities, and by calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the siege imposed on Gaza since 2007.
(Video editing by Abdelrahman Said)