Israel’s Knesset has 14 Arab members. Twelve of those members come from the Joint List, made up primarily of Arab parties. The Joint List also has one Jewish lawmaker.
About 11% of the Knesset is comprised of Arab-Israeli lawmakers. This is less than the 20% of Israel’s population made up by Arabs.
The Arab lawmakers come from the Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin communities. Their participation in Knesset is important especially to work toward change for their communities: more money for schools in Arab communities; improved infrastructure in Arab communities; more accessible medical care for Arab communities in the North; to prevent marginalization of the Arab-Israeli community.
No Arab party has served in a ruling government coalition, though they have informally supported dovish Israeli parties and voted with their governments from the opposition.
But over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party who had until Nov. 20 to form a government, would form a minority government supported from the outside by the parties that make up the Joint List. Netanyahu called such a possibility an “emergency,” and “an existential threat to Israel.”
Netanyahu has become more and more shrill and, frankly, unhinged since the results of Israel’s second election in September and his inability to form a government after being given the opportunity before Gantz. Could the third time be the charm? Once again time will tell.
But in this case, I have to agree with him, because the events of last week made it clear that it is – to put it mildly – a bad idea to depend on the Arab lawmakers to prop up the government.
Last week, you will recall, Israel’s military in a precision, targeted killing eliminated Palestinian Islamic Jihad senior commander Baha Abu Al-Ata. He was directly responsible for most of the rocket fire inflicted on civilians living in southern Israel for the last six months and was considered by the Israel Defense Forces to be a “ticking time bomb,” with plans to carry out rocket attacks and other terrorist activities against Israel “in the coming days.”
Israel’s Security Cabinet had approved Al-Ata’s assassination 10 days earlier, knowing more attacks were imminent. The Security Cabinet told the IDF to take him out at the first opportunity that would minimize collateral damage.
Islamic Jihad in Gaza responded to the assassination by firing some 450 rockets into southern and central Israel over the next two days – paralyzing the civilian community and keeping some 1 million Israeli schoolchildren home.
In the hours following the strike on Al-Ata, Joint List head Aymen Odeh called the attack a “desperate attack” on the part of Netanyahu to remain in office, and a “scorched earth” tactic.
In other words, he supported mercy for a Palestinian terrorist over his consideration for the threat that Al-Ata posed to Israeli citizens.
I cannot think of any instance where Odeh or his fellow Joint List lawmakers would ever support a preemptive or even after-the-fact attack on a terrorist or terrorist infrastructure. That makes his support of a minority government from the outside a serious threat. Because even if Gantz or whoever heads the next government comes begging for Odeh’s support, he and his colleagues will never vote to take measures to protect us from Palestinian terror organizations.
Then we either will remain unprotected, or have to go to new elections. Again.
Back in 2017, Odeh in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster said the Palestinians have the right to attack soldiers, saying the Palestinians have the right to “resist occupation.” He drew the line at targeting civilians then.
Odeh isn’t exactly a threat in the opposition either. If a unity government was formed by Nov. 20, that would leave the Joint List as the largest opposition party, making Odeh head of the opposition.
In Israel, the opposition leader receives security and diplomatic updates. If the Israeli military were poised to carry out another targeted strike on a terrorist, or an airstrike on terrorist infrastructure deemed an immediate threat, Odeh would have all the information. Would he tip off the target or targets?
It makes me very uncomfortable to sound like I think Arab-Israelis are a fifth column. As a whole they are not, but in the case of Odeh and some of his fellow Joint List lawmakers, their feelings are a matter of public record, both in the Knesset plenum and on social media.
I hope one day I can feel differently. But this is not the time to rely on the Arab parties to prop up a government. I’d rather go to a third election.
Marcy Oster is a former Ohio resident who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron in the West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit clevelandjewishnews.com/oster.