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Israel’s newly-reformed Joint List MKs: ‘We’re going to cause a revolution’

Knesset Member Dr Yousef Jabareen at MEMO's 'Present Absentees' conference in London on April 27, 2019 [Middle East Monitor]
Knesset Member Dr Yousef Jabareen at MEMO's 'Present Absentees' conference in London on April 27, 2019 [Middle East Monitor]

Knesset Members (MKs) from Israel’s predominantly-Arab parties have vowed to bring about a “historical revolution” in the country’s upcoming general election, stressing that the newly-reformed Joint List must work hard to win back the support of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The four parties – Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad – ran as two alliances in Israel’s 9 April election, winning a total of ten Knesset seats. This came as a disappointment for Palestinian citizens of Israel, given that the four parties previously held 13 seats as the Joint List, an alliance formed in the run up to Israel’s 2015 election. The List broke down in February amid factional infighting over the distribution of party seats within the alliance.

Now, with fresh elections slated for 17 September – Israel’s second this year after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month failed to build a ruling coalition – these parties yesterday announced that they have reformed the Joint List.

Two of the Joint List’s MKs, Yousef Jabareen and the alliance’s only Jewish candidate, Ofer Cassif, spoke to MEMO about how they plan to learn lessons from April ahead of Israel’s next election.

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Jabareen told MEMO that the decision to reform the Joint List was a reaction to the “demand of the Arab street and the demand of the people”. “I hear this every time I meet our people,” Jabareen explained, “and therefore it is our duty to listen to this popular demand and respond to it”.

Disillusionment among Palestinian citizens of Israel was cited as one of the key reasons for the low voter turnout on election day in April, with many choosing to stay at home or actively boycott the polls. Many were disappointed with the disbanding of the Joint List, while last year’s passing of the Nation-State Law – which declared Israel the “national home of the Jewish people” and effectively rendered Israel’s some 1.8 million Palestinians second-class citizens – came as a severe blow to the community’s engagement with Israeli politics.

Jabareen stressed that the Joint List will now make “every effort” to win back Palestinian citizens’ support, and also plans to engage in “full-time campaigning and communication with the people, recruiting the necessary public support and joint action on key issues, particularly racial discrimination, house demolitions and issues of internal violence”.

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For his part, Ofer Cassif told MEMO that the Joint List must also look outside itself if it is to affect change on 17 September. “We are facing serious danger in the form of racist, right-wing parties, led by the prime minister,” Cassif explained, “so the Joint List has to act as a bulwark against religious fundamentalism and, frankly, fascism in this country”.

Ahead of April’s election, Netanyahu orchestrated a deal with some of Israel’s most extreme right-wing parties in a bid to secure his re-election. In the months that have followed, he has appointed right-wing MKs and long-time loyalists to key portfolios, often in order to guarantee his own position in the face of pending indictments in three corruption cases.

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Yet in order push back against the right-wing, Cassif emphasised that the Joint List must reach across the aisle to Jewish parties and MKs. “This is a Joint List, not a Joint Arab List,” he explained, “our internal institutions, our central committee are comprised of both Jewish-Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and so our platform bears responsibility for all citizens”.

Calls for cooperation between left-wing, Jewish-Israeli parties and the Joint List factions have gained traction in recent weeks, after Meretz registered more than a three-fold increase in votes from Arab-Israelis – including the country’s Druze population – during the April election. The party has also toyed with appointing two party leaders, one Jewish and one Arab-Israeli, in a bid to build on this support.

Cassif told MEMO that, to his knowledge, the Joint List factions had not held formal negotiations with Meretz about the possibility of a merger, only “informal chats”. He did, however, emphasise that should Meretz or parties of a similar ilk choose to join the Joint List, “no one would stop them”. “I’m not convinced they’re ready,” he reflected, “they haven’t passed the Rubicon yet, we have a lot in common politically and I would like to see them among us, but I don’t think they’re there yet”.

Whether any official agreements will be signed in the coming months remains to be seen. Yet with or without such formalities, Jabareen and Cassif are hopeful.

“We aspire to be a strong popular-support campaign and raise our Knesset representation higher than the results of the first Joint List in 2015,” Jabareen concluded: “This is actually possible, to reach 14 or 15 Knesset Members, [which] may have a positive effect on the distribution of power in the Knesset and prevent the return of the extreme right-wing to power”.

“We are going to bring about a historical revolution,” Cassif claimed: “That which unites us is stronger than that which divides us, so we must work hard to make this a success.”

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