Dawn of a new approach? Arab Ra’am party says win is ‘green light to pragmatism’

Ra’am’s surprise win could signal a new era in Israeli politics in which an Arab party partners with the Right — a previously unimaginable scenario.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

In the days leading up to Israel’s election on Tuesday, pollsters widely predicted that Islamic party Ra’am would not pass the electoral threshold.

Exit polls on Election Day, coupled with low voter turnout in Arab communities, seemed to confirm that there was a low likelihood of the party making it into the Israeli government.

But on Wednesday morning, the Jewish State woke up to the news that Ra’am, led by former Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, had crossed the electoral threshold, appearing to secure five seats in the Knesset.

“The Arab public has given the green light to the pragmatic path begun by Mansour Abbas,” a senior Ra’am official told Israel Hayom on Wednesday morning. “The separatist, confrontational path of the Joint List has collapsed.”

During an interview with Kan News on Wednesday, Abbas said his party “was not obligated to any bloc or any candidate. We are not in anyone’s pocket, not on the Right and not on the Left.”

Ra’am’s surprise win could signal a new era in Israeli politics, in which an Arab party partners with the Right — a previously unimaginable scenario.

Up until now, Israel’s Arab parties have steadfastly refused to join right-wing coalitions, preferring to remain in the opposition, in line with their anti-Zionist principles.

The Arab Joint List alliance, which was composed of the Communist Hadash party, the hardline pro-Palestinian Balad, Ta’al, and Ma’an parties, and Abbas’ Islamic Movement-influenced Ra’am party, was no exception to the rule.

The bloc, formed in 2015, consistently secured between 11 and 15 seats in the last three rounds of elections.

Even when it came to legislation that benefited Arab Israeli citizens, such as the normalization agreements with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the Joint List voted against the wishes of the Knesset majority.

While at one time this approach might have satisfied their voters from an ideological perspective, some Arab Israeli voters expressed growing frustration with their representatives for not effectively advocating on their behalf.

Abbas picked up on this sentiment, saying publicly that it was time for Arab parties to cooperate with the prime minister in order to obtain resources for their communities.

“We need to attempt to bargain and negotiate in order to bring about achievements for our people,” he told the Jerusalem Post in November 2020.

His remarks were not well-received by other members of the Joint List, with party chair Ayman Odeh slamming Abbas for “collaboration with the inciter [Netanyahu].”

A controversial figure from the beginning of the Joint List alliance, Abbas’ conservative Ra’am party has consistently promoted an Islamic perspective on political matters, as opposed to the secular, communist, and anti-Zionist outlooks of the other Arab parties.

In a July 2020 interview with Walla News, Abbas expressed his support for conversion therapy for LGBTQ people.

“I think the state should find a suitable environment that would provide help to such people,” he said. “It is important that the authorities provide an appropriate treatment for appropriate behavior.”

His statements were condemned by his then-Joint List colleague Aida Touma Suleiman as being at odds with the Joint List’s agenda of fighting for equality.

Arabs “know all too well the meaning of being persecuted and suffering from discrimination of the dominant discourse of the majority,” Suleiman said in a statement at the time, adding that “we are better off respecting the rights of disadvantaged minorities within us.”

The Ra’am party officially split from the Joint List in January 2021, and although the party has successfully entered the Knesset, there could be more twists ahead.

Ahead of the election, Ra’am party officials said they hadn’t closed the door on a possible reunification with the Joint List.