THE ANGRY ARAB: How Arabs Watch Israeli Elections

The view is no different from how South African blacks regarded elections of whites in apartheid South Africa, writes As’ad AbuKhalil.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Israeli elections are treated by U.S. media as an American affair.  It was only after I came to the U.S. in 1983 that I realized the extent to which the American political establishment invests in Israeli elections. And with every election, the U.S. media and dominant political class pretend that if only this side wins (or that side), peace will be at hand and that a historic compromise would be achieved if only the Palestinians show some pragmatism. 

U.S. administrations stay neutral toward Israeli candidates (they love them all equally) although some U.S. presidents favored some over others (Clinton favored the Labor Party and Obama favored anyone other than Benjamin Netanyahu — not that he treated Netanyahu’s government with anything but the fawning and generous treatment that Israeli leaders are accustomed to receiving from U.S. presidents).

U.S. media purposefully cover Israeli elections to excess, partly to contribute to the myth that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East region (Cyprus is possibly the one country which deserves that label).  Lebanon has been holding elections long before Israel was (forcibly) created but its elections are scantily covered by U.S. media. 

In excessively covering Israeli elections, U.S. and Western media act out of racist preferences: Israel leaders have been exclusively European immigrants (or descendants of European immigrants) and the denigration and political marginalization of Sephardic Jews don’t detract from the image of the “only democracy.” That’s not to mention the mistreatment of the Arab population, both inside the 1948 boundaries of the occupation state, as well as those who are in West Bank, Gaza or outside Palestine. 

Israeli leaders visit Washington more than other Western leaders. The declared affinity and “shared values” myth between the two countries was invented to cover up the historical record of anti-Semitism inside the U.S., and to conceal U.S. complicity in the Western inaction toward the Holocaust. 

Likud 2009 campaign poster calling Netanyahu the strongest on security and the economy. (Wikimedia Commons)

2009 campaign poster calling Netanyahu the strongest on security and the economy. (Wikimedia Commons)

Arabs’ views of the Israeli elections are no different from how South African blacks regarded elections of whites in apartheid South Africa.  Israel made sure to establish a state in which votes of non-Jews don’t count and can’t make a difference.  You can’t expel 82 percent of the native population of a country, and then call elections democratic in that country (after you rendered the natives into a small — albeit growing — segment of the voting population).  The whole idea of declaring Israel as a “Jewish state” is a juridical commitment made by the State of Israel to its Jewish supremacist origin and purpose.  It basically promises Jews of Israel that the state (through its military) won’t allow the number of non-Jews to ever reach a point in which they can count or make a difference.  Yet, they still call that system a “democracy” in the West. 

Treated as a Suspect Community 

The Arabs, after being expelled from their homes, and after the land was forcibly stolen from the Palestinians, were treated as a suspect community which was put under direct military rule from 1948 to 1966 (when Israel was already being referred to as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”)  Arabs needed permits to travel from one village to another and most had to register with the police station for their daily survival.  And not a single Arab poet who rose in the 1950s and 1960s (from Tawfiq Zayyad, Samah Al-Qasim, to Mahmoud Darwish) managed to write Palestinian nationalistic poetry without having to serve time in jail and suffered state harassment for his/her literary production.  That Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East” was — and is — one of the most offensive Western political gimmicks in the eyes of Arabs.

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Some Arabs were drawn early on to communist groupings in the state, because Israeli communists were seen — not always justifiably — as the least racist within a fundamentally racist political spectrum.  Some Arabs rose within the Israeli Communist Party but increasingly Arabs realized the fundamental limitations of a state officially founded on an apartheid doctrine. Arab voter turnout was always low, but Arabs managed in the 1970s to produce their own “Arab parties and lists” although divisions and splits marred their political emergence.

The Zionist movement from its inception sought to sow discord and divisions among the Arabs, and recently declassified Israeli documents from the Labor Party archives from the 1960s confirmed those Israeli plans. They not only speak of averting the “formation of an educated class” among the Arabs but also of creating divisions among them: “We should continue to exhaust all the possibilities [inherent in] the policy of communist divisiveness that bore fruit in the past and has succeeded in creating a barrier—even at times artificial—between certain segments of the Arab population.”

Participation as Propaganda

Palestinians in the diaspora and Arabs at large looked with contempt and deep suspicion at Arab participation in Israeli elections and opposed Arab representation in the Knesset. Arab critics rightly pointed out that Arab participation, while failing to achieve any meaningful results for the Arab minority, merely provided an added layer in Israeli political legitimacy and propaganda. 

Propaganda booths of the Israeli embassy in the U.S. often feature Arab members of the Knesset without explaining that all of them have been subjected to severe and discriminatory treatment by the state: many are often prevented from speaking, or expelled from the halls of the Knesset, or expelled outright from the Knesset. Furthermore, political participation by Arabs in the Knesset weakens the Arab case against the very legitimacy of the Israeli occupation state.

Mural of Mahmoud Darwish in downtown Tunis, Tunisia, 2017. (Emna Mizouni via Wikimedia Commons)

Mural of poet Mahmoud Darwish in Tunis, 2017. (Emna Mizouni via Wikimedia Commons)

While residents of the refugee camps never distinguished between Labor or Likud, because the bombs kept falling on them whether the government belonged to the right, center, or left, PLO leadership often put too much stake in the results of the election.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the leadership of Yasser Arafat failed in mounting a successful armed resistance against Israel (because Arafat had such hopes in the U.S. “peace process,” which excluded him from the start) and failed in ending the U.S. boycott of the PLO.  In a confirmation of the bankruptcy of the leadership of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas (who was an advisor to Arafat on Israeli affairs) persuaded Arafat that change would come from Israel provided the Labor Party stayed in power.  PLO offices around the world (especially in Paris) used to open champagne bottles when Labor won over Likud.  They had no other course of action except to rely on their enemy to deliver liberation for them. 

Not much will change in Israel after this election.  The racism, aggressiveness and contempt for the native population are beliefs that are shared across the Israeli political spectrum. It is not that there is new racism in Israel: the new racism is the old Labor Party racism but without the camouflage and layers of concealment. 

The entire political spectrum of Israel keeps moving further to the right, but occupation and apartheid were planted by the Zionist left in Israel.  The notion that Israel is changing (toward racism and exclusiveness) is a myth planted by those who believed all along that there was a “peace camp” in Israel.  The political debate between Netanyahu and his opponents shows that both sides competed in demonstrating hostility and aggression toward Arabs. Gen. Benny Gantz, who ran against Netanyahu this time, bragged about the number of Palestinians he managed to kill in Gaza in 2014, when the overwhelming majority of the casualties were civilians.

Israel will not change on its own, but will be forced to change with a change in the regional balance of forces and the steadfastness of the Palestinian population.  More people are disqualified from voting in historic Palestine than those who are enfranchised (largely the Jewish population, including any Jewish person as soon as he or she comes to Israel from anywhere in the world).  Palestinians who were born in 1948 Palestine and who left homes and orchards behind were shot at the border if they ever tried to return.  The state that killed, displaced, and prevented the return of the natives can’t be said to be democratic, even if the majority Jewish population are permitted to select who among them should lead the apartheid state.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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16 comments for “THE ANGRY ARAB: How Arabs Watch Israeli Elections

  1. April 22, 2019 at 13:04

    It is quite amusing, actually, how pseudo-pseudo-academic nonsense riles up all the usual anti semites.
    If the pseudo-pseudo- academic responsible for this work of art even bothered to read actual interviews with actual Israeli Arabs he would have known that the main reason for the low turnout was to punish their (Arab) representatives for preferring their own narro interests over the interests of their constituents.

    That is why the Arabs will never win: they will believe anybody telling them what they want to hear…

  2. Eric Bloom
    April 19, 2019 at 02:54

    You left out that the so called Palestinians supported Hitler during World War 2

    • Pal
      April 21, 2019 at 02:23

      Typical hasbara bee ess. Jews with help from the British stole Palestine

  3. Bruce Hitchcock
    April 15, 2019 at 02:32

    IF VOTING made a difference the ruling class wouldn’t let us do it here either.

  4. Paul Bohannon
    April 14, 2019 at 20:03

    It is stated that the US recognizes Israel as a Democracy despite the removal of over 85% of the population…
    We have a very similar history and to legitimize Israel is to legitimize our own flawed and bloody past and present.
    There are other factors to be sure.
    When the US was Israel’s age it was committing genocide on two continents.

  5. Tekyo Pantzov
    April 12, 2019 at 21:27

    It is blindingly obvious that the most urgent task for the international community is to eliminate the world’s only Jewish state and replace it with the world’s 23rd Muslim Arab state. That way democracy, diversity, peace and justice will be guaranteed forevermore, as we can now observe in the surrounding Muslim Arab democracies. When that happy day arrives, Hamas and Hizballah will willingly disarm, since their military goals will have been achieved once the aggressive, militaristic apartheid Entity is gone.

    • old geezer
      April 14, 2019 at 12:37

      remarkable how the descendents of egyptian slaves can have such an effect on billions of believers of the prophet of

      who was a mass murdering, illiterate pedophile

      • Bruce Hitchcock
        April 15, 2019 at 02:35

        U left out the word God.

        • old geezer
          April 15, 2019 at 11:25

          are you sure, the m man himself initially thought he was talking to a demon in that cave
          a reasonable man could argue it is the religion of the that other guy,

          you know, the one that saul alynsky dedicated his book to

    • Pal
      April 21, 2019 at 02:25

      Total bee ess feom typical Zionist Jews. Jews stole Palestinian land and murdered untold number of Palestinians since 1917. Justice will prevail in the end as the arc of justice is long

  6. Sally Snyder
    April 12, 2019 at 07:30

    Here is an article that looks at how Israel has broken international human rights conventions that protect certain Palestinians:

    Similar actions by one of the Axis of Evil nations, Russia or China would be grounds for economic sanctions and the threat of military intervention, however, as we all know, generations of American politicians have proven themselves to be quite adept when it comes to ignoring the bad behaviours of Israel.

    • AnneR
      April 12, 2019 at 09:46

      Oh so true – were Russians, the Chinese or, I would add, Iranians to do *half* of what Israel has been doing over the decades since 1947 (and over the decades between 1917-1947 it was with much British connivance, on the ground as well as in the halls of Westminster), not simply economic sanctions, but “humanitarian interventions” would be enacted. Certainly against Iran were they to have done anything approaching the 70+ years of ethnic cleansing, torture, bombing, land grabbing etc etc….

      As Prof. AbuKhalil points out the present day Palestinian “citizen” population within Israel itself are fragmented politically and that is a serious problem – but the Israelis like it that way.

      Profoundly unfortunate is the fact that such divisions, fragmentations (political, religious, socio-economic) were as true of the pre WWII period – and these divisions were heavily exploited, and ensured, (quite deliberately) by the Brits throughout the period of their “Mandate,” all the better to assist the Zionists and their intentions for Palestinian lands. Would that the Palestinians could have coalesced, in those early years of Zionist entry into Palestine, to form a strong, cohesive political counterforce against the UK-Zionist one. Matters might well have developed rather differently had they been able to overcome their differences sufficient to render null the British and Zionist efforts to maintain those splinters.

      The UK has as much to answer for as does the US for the destruction – past and ongoing – of Palestine and Palestinians.

      • April 12, 2019 at 11:49

        More than ethnic cleansing, it is genocide as openly stated and supported by some zionists.

        Blaming fragmentation among Palestinians is akin to blaming the victim.

        Faced with zionist terrorism,the british and the force of Rothschild any configuration of Palestinian social structure would find it difficult to fend off the aggressors.

        Hamas was initially funded by zionists to oppose Fatah.

        Native Americans were also tribal ( “fragmented”) but neither were they responsible for not being able to avoid suffering attempted genocide.

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