Ahmad Tibi (Image credit: Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office of Israel)
Imagine that Arab Americans controlled over a tenth of Congress where they openly justified terror attacks, called for the demise of America as a Western democratic state through the implementation of Shari’ah law, exploited their political strength to press America to concede Texas to Mexico, and joined forces with the left to dominate the legislative agenda.
Sounds pretty bleak? Well, welcome to Israel.
Here the Joint List, an amalgam of the four Israeli Arab parties in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), is the third largest party, holding 13 mandates. Its members actively justify terror and press Israel to concede territory to a hostile enemy, while fomenting against its fundamental identity as the Jewish state – as was defined at Israel’s independence by the then-ruling leftist Labor party.
But speculation is now rife that the union of Balad, Ta’al, Hadash, and United Arab List is facing an imminent implosion.
The Joint List – cobbled together ahead of the 2015 elections in order to get over the electoral threshold raised to 3.25% the previous year – is currently squabbling over implementation of its seat rotation deal, reports revealed in early August.
As innocuous and bureaucratic as that may sound, the turmoil blatantly highlights the intrinsically subversive nature of the political activity of Israel’s Arab citizenry.
One need look no further than the incident that set off the latest brouhaha to see this point illustrated: It all began when one of the party’s members smuggled equipment to Arab terrorists in prison, and was subsequently jailed.
Basel Ghattas of the Balad faction was caught on video on Dec. 18, 2016 sneaking in messages and cell phones to jailed terrorists, all while abusing his immunity as a Knesset member from being searched.
The equipment may well have been meant to serve the terrorists in planning attacks from within their cells. And just to make the sense of treason all the more palpable, one of the terrorists was Walid Daka, also an Arab citizen of Israel, who helped abduct and mutilate 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984 as he was hitching a ride home in the coastal region.
Ghattas reached a plea bargain agreement and began serving a two-year prison sentence, a mere wrist slap, on July 2.
The various Arab factions are arguing over who should step down in order to maintain the number of seats stipulated for each. On August 9, in order to rebalance the seat distribution of serving Knesset members for each faction, an MK of the Hadash faction stepped down to be replaced by a United Arab List member. But Ta’al is refusing to remove one of its own from further down the list to make room for Balad, which was promised four spots in the rotation agreement.
Watching the bickering, one cannot help but be struck by the irony that the disintegration is occurring based on a purely technical issue, given the largely disparate nature of the four factions.
Hadash, an openly communist party, includes a radical Jewish member (Dov Khenin); its chairman Ayman Odeh leads the Joint List party.
Balad focuses on Arab nationalism; its members regularly visit Qatar to speak with party founder Azmi Bishara, who fled charges of treason after guiding Hezbollah missiles to strike Israeli civilians in the 2006 Second Lebanon War – and who incidentally debunked the existence of a “Palestinian people” and “Palestine” in a rare moment of candor on national TV. A Balad summer camp for Israeli Arab children recently made headlines for its open incitement to terror, including chants of: "With spirit and blood we will redeem you, O Palestine."
Ra’am was founded by MK Ahmad Tibi, former advisor on Israeli affairs to the head of the PLO, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat (which should tip you off which side Tibi is playing for).
Last but not least, the United Arab List represents the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. The northern branch, which rejects participation in Israeli politics as implying recognition of Israel, was outlawed in late 2015 over its direct ties to Hamas.
The Fifth Column is Real
Despite their differences, the factions are united by their opposition to the “occupation” – namely, their enmity and open subversive action against the Jewish state. In this they represent the over 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel who make up over 20% of the total population, 76% of whom rejected Israel’s definition as the Jewish state in a poll last December.
This poll finding reflects hostility to Israel’s fundamental nature as the historical national homeland of the Jewish people, and seemingly underscores a desire to make it the 23rd Arab state in the world.
This is a reality of disloyalty that the media and political elite in Israel studiously avoid, as was reflected in the relatively scant and short-lived coverage of Ghattas’ betrayal, among other things.
The left generally justifies these expressions of disloyalty as being a natural response to the “occupation,” while the right is largely unwilling to address the problem and formulate a policy to deal with it, likely for fear of being labeled “racist.” And so they ignore it, as Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett did in 2014 when he said that “99.9%” of Israeli Arabs are loyal to the state.
A Turning Point?
Interestingly, the Joint List crisis comes precisely as Israeli Arab hostility is showing more openly violent manifestations. The three Arab terrorists who murdered two Israeli border police officers on the Temple Mount in mid-July were citizens of Israel. They were lauded as heroes at a funeral in their hometown of Umm Al-Fahm, which was attended by over 3,000 fellow Arab citizens. Then in late July and early August, there were massive violent riots by Arab citizens in Yafo south of Tel Aviv, after an Arab criminal was killed in a gunfight with police.
It is possible that the growing instability among their political leadership may see Arab citizens turn to violence even more, if they feel political action against the state is becoming less of an option. One can only speculate at this point.
So what will happen?
In all likelihood, as elections roll around and the factions realize that they have no chance of getting past the electoral threshold running separately, they will suck up their pride and sort out the rotation in order to continue their “political struggle” in the Knesset.
But if they don’t, and if some or all of them don’t make it in, then they are likely to focus more intensely on attacking Israel on the world stage – as they have often done before in less concerted efforts. This may also include an escalation in joint activity with the Palestinian Authority to wage “lawfare” against Israel, trying to put the state on trial in the international courts on trumped up charges.
Whether or not the Joint List factions kiss and make up, Israel would be wise to assess the political activity of its Arab citizens honestly and to come up with a coherent strategy to address the threat from within.