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February 19, 2020 8:26 am

How to Win the Support of Israel’s Arab Citizens

avatar by Eyal Zisser / Israel Hayom /


The plenum hall of the Israeli parliament on the opening of the 22nd Knesset in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019. Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

JNS.orgTime after time, the Israeli public, and the country’s courts as well, are forced to discuss the pearls of wisdom coming from the mouths of members of the Arab-majority Joint List party, especially those of the Balad faction. Time and again, we hear evasive and stuttered explanations, according to which their statements were simply misunderstood or taken out of context, and we are assured that the persons involved are against the use of any type of violence.

Such explanations have been put on trial more than once, and in many cases were even lent a listening ear by the judges, who observe the comments through a narrow judicial prism, rule what they rule, and go on to the next case.

It must be understood, however, that these are not just slips of the tongue, but a sequence of expressions that demonstrate a dedication to the Palestinian narrative. We hear reverberations of this narrative, incidentally, time and again from senor Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, above all PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas also tends to stutter or disappear every time he is required to condemn acts of terror or explain why the PA calls dead terrorists shahids (“martyrs”), glorifies them, and continues to pay their families a salary.

What indeed is the Palestinian narrative that these members of the Joint List adhere to, at times with adjustments for the Israeli Jewish ear? Allow me to recite some of its major points.

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First: “The Jews are not a people, only a faith, and therefore do not have the right to self-determination and to their own homeland.” This may explain the adamant denial to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Second: “The Land of Israel belongs to Palestinians, those Arabs who lived there before the Jews returned to the land.” These Arabs, who eventually adopted a Palestinian identity, are therefore the owners of that land, and those who left it in 1948 have the right to return.

Third: “The Israeli presence in the Land of Israel, especially in Judea and Samaria, is an occupation.” The occupation can and must be opposed in every manner, including violence not only against soldiers but also against civilians, who are nothing more than “colonialist” settlers who came to steal Palestinian lands.

Constraints on the PA have led Abbas to conclude that, from a tactical perspective, terrorism is not useful, and even detrimental. But this is not a moral denial of violence, and we will never catch Abbas condemning acts of terrorism against Israeli soldiers in Judea and Samaria, seeing as how the Palestinian public and Abbas himself, in his heart of hearts, believe it is legitimate. This is precisely why he calls the terrorists shahids and pays salaries to their families.

The members of the Joint List mostly adhere to this narrative, and it is the basis for their claims and deeds. This is why when their lawmakers call Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar a shahid, it’s not a one-time slip of the tongue. However, there is no denying that the adoption of the Palestinian narrative by members of the Joint List opens a wide gap between those who support them and the general Israeli public.

The Arab public in Israel supports the Joint List not necessarily because it blindly accepts its platform, but because it is the only political force that represents it and pretends to take care of its needs. This fact is testimony to the failure of the Zionist parties to recruit and integrate the Arabs in Israel.

Integrating Arab Israelis into all aspects of Israeli life, as citizens with equal rights and obligations, is the way to bridge the gap and push the Palestinian narrative from the discourse of Israeli Arabs to the fringes.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University. This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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