By Bringing an Arab Party into the Government, Israel Fulfilled Part of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s Vision

June 23, 2022 | Einat Wilf
About the author: Einat Wilf, a former Labor member of Israel’s Knesset, is the author of Telling Our Story and The War of Return (with Adi Schwartz).

On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced their decision to dissolve the government and call for new elections—the fifth since 2019. Much ink will be spilled about the successes and failures of the unusual coalition led by Bennett and Lapid and why it collapsed after only a year in power. Einat Wilf attends to the fact that, of the eight disparate parties it brought together, one was the Islamist Ra’am, the first Arab party to be included in an Israeli government. Wilf points out that Ra’am’s participation in the outgoing coalition is in fact a realization of the ideas set forth by the great Zionist thinker Vladimir Jabotinsky, in his seminal essay “On the Iron Wall.”

Jabotinsky did not believe that the Zionists were destined to live always by the sword. Once the Arabs truly accepted the existence of the Jewish state, Jews and Arabs would govern together. On the other side of the Iron Wall, he believed in a highly liberal vision for the emergent state where “in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice-versa.”

Israel is closer today than it has ever been in its history to realizing the goal of full acceptance in a predominantly Arab and Islamic region. The Abraham Accords present a compelling alternative Arab-Muslim narrative, one that embraces the Jewish state as an integral part of the region rather than a foreign implant.

Similarly, [Ra’am’s leader] Mansour Abbas has given political voice to the Arab citizens of Israel who seek true integration into the Jewish state. Those are the Arab citizens who are volunteering in increasing numbers to serve in the Israel Defense Force. Those are the Arab citizens who defend Israel in diplomatic forums and on social media against its detractors. These developments reflect very real achievements of Jabotinsky’s Iron Wall. Many Arab Israelis do not seek the country’s destruction. They support, and participate in, its success.

But these achievements remain fragile. Abbas’s political rival among Israel’s Arab political leaders, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List (an alliance of Arab parties), recently told young Israeli Arabs not to join the “occupation forces.” Odeh described Abbas’s conduct as “insulting and humiliating.” . . . Odeh represents a substantial number of Israel’s Arab citizens, if not the majority. . . . While positive signs of acceptance need to be celebrated, it would be unwise to ignore or explain away indications to the contrary.

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