An Arab-Israeli Politician Has Taken a Definitive Step Away from Anti-Zionism. How Will Jewish Politicians Respond?

November 20, 2020 | Michael Milshtein
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In recent weeks, the Knesset member Mansour Abbas, the leader of the religiously conservative Islamic party Ra’am, has drawn increasingly close to Likud—to the ire of his colleagues in the Joint Arab List, a bloc consisting of several Arab parties. His actions and statements represent a dramatic rejection of the traditional Arab political attitude of permanent opposition to whichever party is in power. Criticizing those Israelis who would see this development through the narrow lens of their distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu, Michael Milshtein praises Abbas for his “principled” approach:

Abbas himself makes it clear that after many years of adhering to the slogans [that dominate Israeli Arab politics] and a genuine unwillingness to cross the line when it comes to [cooperating with the] government, he is willing to break conventions to [improve the lot] of Arab Israelis. . . . Abbas is not alone in this and in recent months similar comments of cooperation have been heard from other opinion makers. They are expressing the prevailing mood of an Arab public frustrated by the fact that its unprecedented electoral achievements in recent years have not swayed the Joint List out of its refusal to become more involved in governance.

Abbas is to a large extent a revolutionary. He has broken out of the pattern of identity politics, which automatically puts all Arabs on the same side of the political map and in the pockets of the leftist camp.

In terms of its political approach, [Ra’am] is similar to the other Arab parties, but socially and ideologically it is closer to the [Jewish] religious parties, which is reflected in the party’s opposition to the ban on “conversion therapies” [for homosexuals], a position that caused a stir among the Arab public.

The ball is currently in the court of Jewish politics and society. Now the Jewish side must also show an ability to change, and especially its willingness to open the gates of the major parties and coalitions to those who approach from the heart of Arab society.

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