Five Arab parties in Israel you’ve never heard of

Most have heard of the Joint List, but there are over 10 other Arab-oriented parties, five of which are running for the 21st Knesset on April 9, 2019.  

By Sheri Oz, World Israel News

Certainly most Israelis, Jews and non-Jews alike, are familiar with the four parties making up the Joint List that gained 13 seats in the last national elections: Balad, Raam, Taal and Hadash. These are generally identified as Arab parties even though Hadash is an Arab-Jewish communist party. The Joint List has split into two (Hadash-Taal, Raam-Balad) for the upcoming elections.

Few Jewish Israelis are aware that there are more than 10 other Arab-oriented parties, five of which are running for the 21st Knesset on April 9, 2019.  Here are some facts about these five parties. They are listed in order of date of establishment.

1. Daam Workers Party

Founded in 1996, it is surprising, perhaps, that Daam Workers Party has not entered the Israeli consciousness to the extent that the other four veteran Arab parties have (Hadash 1977, Taal 1990, Raam 1990, Balad 1996).

Their website claims that they are seeking “revolutionary change in Israeli society, based on the principles of integration, equality, and social justice.” According to them, that goal can be achieved by a socialist society and an Arab Spring in the Palestinian Authority (PA) that will bring about the downfall of the PA; Daam sees the PA as a “subcontractor of Israeli occupation” and they support one state for two peoples.

Daam was unavailable for comment.

2. Hope for Change

Hope for Change (Hatikva Leshinui, in Hebrew) was founded in 2013. Its current leader is Rami Mahameed.  The goal of the party is to resolve the domestic social problems plaguing the Arab sector of Israel.

According to Mahameed, this can be accomplished by attending to the direct needs of Israel’s Arab population as well as by using the springboard uniquely available to Arab members of Knesset to help the population of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

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“In contrast with the current MKs from the Arab parties, who are loyal to Abu Mazen,” Mahameed told World Israel News. “We are loyal to the Palestinian people. They are our people, we are one. Furthermore, if we help the people rather than the corrupt leadership, we help promote peace.”

For example, Mahameed suggests that tax monies collected by Israel on behalf of the PA should be paid directly to employees rather than to the PA. And he declares that the moment he is in the Knesset, he will enter Gaza to stop the demonstrations on the border.

“Protesting is fine,” he says, “but sending 13-year-olds to fight Israel is unacceptable.”

Mahameed discussed the changes taking place in the Arab sector, whereby communities are investing greatly in the education of their children. But this has not yet brought the positive changes needed. He would like to see projects supported by Arab MKs who will hire professional advisors to guide the way to success.

Hope for Change wants the Arab sector and the State of Israel to mutually support each other.

3. Arab List

In 2015, two parties joined together, forming the Arab List (Harishima HaAravit, in Hebrew), but one of them pulled out just before the previous elections. The party now consists of the National Arab Party (2001) and independent candidates who joined their ranks.

Party leader Mohammed Kanan explained its goals. First, they seek to serve the Arab population of Israel. They believe that their time and efforts need to be invested in resolving the problems faced by Arabs in the Negev, the Galilee and the mixed cities, to improve education, employment, infrastructure and housing.

Unfortunately, the Joint List failed their electorate, and some of its MKs caused serious harm with irresponsible statements and actions.

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“We offer the Arab population of Israel a new approach, a new vision, that will bring true co-existence and mutual respect between Jews and Arabs,” says Kanan, “so that we will all see a thriving economy and success for all of us.”

Arab list members at a committee meeting (Flash90/Yonatan Sindel)

Second, Kanan states that his party would be willing to enter a left-center government coalition in order to prove that Arabs and Jews can work together and live together in dignity. There has never before been an Arab party to make such a declaration.

4. New Horizon 

New Horizon (Ofek Hadash, in Hebrew), although several years in the planning stages, was officially registered in December 2018. It defines itself as a centrist Arab party.

Founder Salman Abu Ahmad of Nazareth decided to take things into his own hands when he saw that the established Arab parties were unsuccessful in getting the Arab voice heard in the Knesset.

“We also tried to make ourselves heard within the Zionist parties, but they are not paying attention to our pain,” Abu Ahmad told World Israel News.

The party platform concerns itself largely with the unequal distribution of resources that leaves the Arab population at an unfair disadvantage in terms of education, health and infrastructure.

Abu Ahmad agrees with Jews who see the anti-Zionist Arab parties as a fifth column, and he wants to calm Jewish fears.

“We are a minority here not unlike the Jewish minority in the United States. And like them, we want to integrate totally and equally within Israeli society,” he explained. “We are more concerned with domestic Israeli issues, unlike the other Arab parties that are more focused on Palestinian affairs. We are prepared to work with any party that is in favor of peace and we can serve as a bridge to peace.

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“We are an inseparable part of the Palestinian people and we are citizens of Israel. If we are not successful in bringing peace at least we can promote equality.”

5. United Allies/Sons of the Covenant

United Allies/Sons of the Covenant (Ichud Bnei HaBrit, in Hebrew) was registered in February 2019, just in time to run for the upcoming elections. It is essentially a Christian Israeli party but also has Jews and Muslims among its members.

Founder Bishara Shlayan of Nazareth told World Israel News that he believes his party can be a “Christian compass” for Israeli society.

“This is our country and we have security here. Israel protects us, and we need to stop fighting among ourselves and contribute to the state,” he said. “Until now, most Arabic speaking Christians would vote for Balad since, as a communist party, it does not identify with Islam. “Now the 140,000 Arabic speaking Christians and 320,000 non-Arabic speaking Christians can vote for a party that truly represents them.”

Shlayan claims that the four large Arab parties make a show of being opposed to the State of Israel, “but if you ask them if they would live in a Palestinian state, they say they would not.”

The United Allies platform does not mention a Palestinian state in any way. “We are concerned with full integration of Israel’s minority populations into society. This is the meaning of democracy,” says Shlayan. “When Arab Israelis demonstrate in the streets, they should be raising the Israeli flag and not the Palestinian one.”

United Allies is at a disadvantage on the political stage since, in contrast with the fact that the mosques preach political messages, no church will combine politics and prayer. “It takes money, and lots of it, to get your message to the public, and so parties like ours find it hard to succeed in elections.”

“We believe in the Jewish people and stand by the State of Israel,” he stated.