On Sunday, thanks in part to the recommendations of the Knesset’s Arab bloc, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin tasked Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist Blue and White party, with forming a new government. While Arab parties have sat in the Knesset for years, they have never taken part in a governing coalition. Efraim Karsh and Gershon Hacohen argue that Arab parliamentarians’ rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and support for its enemies, should disqualify them from doing so:
[W]hen in 1965 the Central Elections Committee disqualified the Arab Socialist list, . . . which rejected Israel’s very existence, from running for the Knesset, the Supreme Court ratified that measure under the doctrine of “defensive democracy.”
Since then, and especially after the launch of the Oslo “peace process” in 1993, Israel’s Arab parties have undergone massive radicalization. Ignoring legislation forbidding unauthorized visits by Israelis to enemy states, Azmi Bishara, the founding leader of the ultranationalist Balad party (with seats in the Israeli parliament since 1999), traveled to Damascus to commemorate the death of Hafez al-Assad, one of Israel’s most implacable enemies, from where he implored the Arab states to enable anti-Israel “resistance activities,” expressed admiration for Hizballah, and urged Israeli Arabs to celebrate the terrorist organization’s achievements and internalize its operational lessons.
His Knesset peer Ahmad Tibi was beside himself with joy on meeting the deceased [Syrian] tyrant’s son, Bashar al-Assad in January 2009. . . . The following year, Tibi traveled to Libya with a delegation of Israeli Arab parliamentarians to meet the long-reigning (and soon-to-be-deposed) dictator Muammar Qaddafi, whom he lauded as “king of the Arabs.” By this time, open calls for Israel’s destruction [by Arab parliamentarians] had substituted for the 1990s’ euphemistic advocacy of this goal.
This steady ultranationalist surge was met by corresponding reluctance by the legal system to enforce the legislation designed to ensure Israel’s Jewish character. Before the February 2009 and April 2019 elections, for instance, the Supreme Court overturned the Central Elections Committee’s disqualification of Balad and vetoed the disqualification of Arab members of Knesset who have expressed “support for armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the state of Israel”—the legal threshold for disqualification. [Recently], Israeli Arab politicians’ rejection of Israel’s Jewish nature has become ever more pronounced.