If you are progressive/liberal, a supporter of democratic Israel, and, for good measure, a Zionist, there are two parties you can conscientiously support in the coming election. (If you are a Zionist and not progressive/liberal, there are many parties to support, ranging from the moderate right (Labour) to the ultra, ultra right and proudly racist (Yachad).
The two parties worthy of your consideration are Meretz and the Joint List.
Meretz needs no introduction; it is a veteran left wing Zionist party that represents the best of the old Zionist tradition, consistently working to make Israel a liberal democracy within the confines of statist/ethnicist, Zionism. Its leader, Zahava Galon, is a hardworking parliamentarian whose voice deserves to be heard. If you are liberal Jew who finds it hard to leave the Zionist tribe then Meretz is an acceptable alternative for you.
But if you are truly a progressive and care about both Israel and the Palestinians, then leave the Zionist tribe this election. Here are ten reasons why.
1. For the first time in history there is one political list that represents the most under-represented sector of Israeli society, Palestinian Israelis, the sector that has consistently been denied political power as permanent members of the opposition. (For those unfamiliar with the Israeli parliamentary system, money flows only to the sectors represented in the governing coalition, and since Arab parties are barred by the “Jewish state” ethos from joining the government, the Arab sector is routinely shafted. No amount of liberal pieties about the importance of closing the gap can change this fundamental truth: the Jewish state foundationally discriminates against its Arab citizens.)
2. If you are a progressive/liberal, then you should support an Israel that is a nation of all its citizens, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, religious, haredi, and secular, male and female, etc., etc. There is only one party that speaks in the name of the Israeli people (ha-Am ha-Yisraeli) and that is the Joint List. Most of the others explicitly claim to represent Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. If you are Sheldon Adelson that won’t be a problem. But if you are progressive, it should.
3. If you are a progressive/liberal, then you should support a party that has deliberately been ignored and dismissed by the media and official Israel in this election, despite that it is now polling as the third or fourth largest party in the election – only because it is composed mainly of Palestinians Arabs.
4. If you are progressive/liberal and a Zionist, then you should be worried at the growing disaffection of Palestinian Israelis, whose participation in the democratic process has plummeted in recent elections. And the reason is simple: Arabs have the right to vote, but they may as well flush their ballot down the toilet since all the major Zionist political parties refuse to sit in a governing coalition with them. Even Labour recently announced that it would only sit in a coalition with a Jewish party (not in so many words, of course, but that was the clear implication of its statement “from Meretz” to the right).
5. If you are a progressive/liberal and a Zionist, then you should be alarmed at the racism and bigotry that infects virtually all segments of Israeli society, left, right and center. The Joint List is running on an anti-racism platform, and has reached out to the disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, primarily, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, and women, those who have suffered from the institutional and personal racism that is so endemic in Israeli society.
6. If you are a progressive/liberal and a Zionist then it’s time you start thinking outside the box in order to extricate Israel from the undemocratic mess in which it is mired. It will be harder (though admittedly possible) to ignore the Palestinian citizens of Israel when they have 15-20 seats in the Knesset. I have argued that for Israel to be a true democracy it needs more Palestinian representation, not less. The answer of many liberal Zionists is to argue for a two state solution in which a Palestinian state that discriminates against its Jewish citizens is created alongside an Israeli state that discriminates against its Arab citizens. Balancing discrimination with discrimination is not the answer. Eliminating discrimination is.
The next four reasons to support the Joint List are directed at Meretz supporters.
7. Isn’t it time you tried something new? I supported Meretz in 1992, when it reached the height of its political power and when it was able to “energize Rabin” (“Yumratz Rabin!” in Yossi Sarid’s immortal phrase) The only Israeli political party I ever actually joined was Meretz. But Meretz is still very identified with Tel-Aviv, white, ashekenazi, secularists and is no longer a national party in any sense of the term. It still plays the anti-dati/religious card in its elections, and waffles whenever Israel embarks on a military adventure, always attempting to balance a fundamentally imbalanced situation. Not always, but too often, its “pep” has replaced its “energy”. (“Pep” as an acronym stands for “progressive except for Palestine”; the Hebrew word meretz means energy.”
8. If you are going to vote for a party that will be in the opposition – and Meretz definitely will be in the opposition, if it gets into the Knesset at all – why vote for a small party in the opposition when you can vote for a large party that has greater power on the committees?
9. For years, pro-Israel Jewish progressives have said, “If only the Arabs could get their act together, think what political power they may have! Think how Israel would look!” Well, now is the first – and depending on the response, perhaps the last – time that this is happening. Wouldn’t a Meretz supporter want to support this development, at least for one election?
10. The Joint List is predominantly Arab, but it is definitely not the Joint Arab list. It is actively seeking Israeli Jewish partnership and I see a time when the list grows larger and incorporates people who once found their home in Meretz and even Meimad. The Joint List is the best development in Israeli politics in years. It came about after the rightwing parties attempted, through legislation upheld by the Supreme Court, to limit Palestinian representation in the Knesset, even in the opposition. Progressives should show the Israeli public that these moves will only boomerang.
And finally, the disgusting and so far successful attempt (until, God willing, the court overturns it) to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi for some of the statements she has made should be enough for any true Jewish liberal not to support any of the parties that did not actively protest that decision, and that includes Labour. (For the record, I also protest the decision to bar Baruch Marzel from running, although there is no comparison between the two at all. In fact, he was the collateral damage of the attempt to silence Zoabi.)
Look this is politics and no choice is perfect. I realize that by casting my vote for the Joint List, I am also voting a religious fundamentalist political party that makes up one of its components. That’s hardly progressive. And I also am sympathetic to the Palestinian claim that the elections are a sham, that Israel is a democracy only for the Jews, and that even if the Joint List gets 30 seats, they will still sit in the opposition. (In fact, I made that claim once.)
And yet…when some of the polls last week showed the Joint List either neck-or-neck or outpolling Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party. I almost leapt with joy – isn’t this the Israeli that progressives would want to see, a liberal, vibrant, inclusive democracy, rather than the reactionary nineteenth century ethnocracy it has become?
Let’s give the Joint List a chance. We can hope that there will be change.