Editor’s Note: Dr. Ahmad Tibi is a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and parliamentary head of the Joint List faction, a coalition predominantly of Arab political parties in Israel. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
The outcome of the Israeli elections has shown that the only real opposition to the current right-wing Israeli government and its anti-peace policies is the Joint List.
The Joint List is dealing with electoral victory responsibly, after adding seats over the course of Israel’s three elections in the last year, now reaching a historic high mark for predominantly Arab parties
We are not responding to the hateful incitement we have heard from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters. Rather, in the interest of lasting peace and security, we are moving ahead with our political platform to advance the cause of equality, social justice and freedom in a country that systematically violates those basic principles.
We know that our 15 seats (out of 120 total) are not necessarily going to change the institutionalized system of discrimination imposed by Israel on its Arab-Palestinian population – nor will it end over half a century of illegal colonial-settler occupation of the State of Palestine.
We need broader majorities to end dozens of laws that negatively discriminate solely against the non-Jewish population approved in the Israeli parliament. But we also know that our voice is being heard and that the world now is aware of our existence and cannot continue to ignore us.
We aim to make this situation a turning point for the creation of a larger Arab-Jewish partnership. We do not have an anti-Jewish agenda, but we will not be silent in the face of those who have an anti-Palestinian agenda.
We offer an alternative that seeks to change the whole direction of travel, toward an Israel that deals with its own Palestinian population with respect and equality, while ending over half a century of occupation of the State of Palestine. We would return to the borders in place in 1967, as per the basic international peace parameters. This is a vision that enjoys great international support, including regional support through the Arab Peace Initiative.
Clearly, this is not an easy goal to achieve. For decades, we have been dealing with an international community whose response to the Israeli occupation, contrary to its behavior in other cases of colonization and annexation of occupied territory, is to support impunity over accountability.
Positive engagement with Israel has not made it move toward peace. Quite the contrary. Governments that claim to share values with Israel – including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Australia, President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil and certainly the US under President Trump – have contributed to the normalization of Israeli violations of international law.
It is in this context that Israel approved the racist Jewish nation-state law in 2018 and has subsequently moved toward annexation of occupied territory.
In Israel, there are dozens of laws that discriminate against the non-Jewish population going from access to services, education, land ownership and citizenship, among others, according to the nonprofit group Adalah. For example, an amendment made to the citizenship law which has separated thousands of families by virtually banning family unification requests for Palestinian citizens.
The “foreign government funding law” of 2011 is an excellent example of how the state has taken a stand against those organizations that oppose the occupation of Palestine and its related human rights violations. On top of that, in 2018 the Israeli Supreme Court even refused to allow for a parliamentary debate calling for full equal rights and for Israel being a state for “all its citizens.”
This goes without even counting the military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territory of 1967 and its imposition of two systems on the same land, one for settlers and one for Palestinians, in what can be referred to as apartheid.
For the Israeli government, the Palestinian right to self-determination is a threat. Equality among all its citizens, regardless of their religion, is a threat. This should not be treated lightly and requires a transformational approach. This is precisely what we are trying to do at the Joint List. As well as representing Israel’s Arab communities, the Joint List, in our view, is also the only political group that truly represents all Israeli Jews who believe in peace and coexistence with the State of Palestine and the rest of the region.
As the results of the most recent election showed, the Arab List increased its votes coming from predominantly Jewish areas, which indicates growing support among Jews.
Our electoral success is a call for a more inclusive process and exchange of ideas between Israel’s Jewish and Arab Palestinian citizens. It demands breaking down the barriers of fear and instead building bridges of cooperation.
For Netanyahu and his government coalition, anything short of Jewish exclusivity is to be rejected. Just look at the irresponsible and hateful incitement campaign against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and particularly against me.
Through his constant repetition of the phrase “Bibi or Tibi” during the recent campaign, Netanyahu was telling his electorate that my own electoral representation, and the public political role in Israel’s system played by me – a responsible citizen, a medical doctor, born and raised in this country – represents a threat to the state. Why so? Simply because I’m not a Jew.
But we have not allowed this to affect our humanity. Especially in the context of the coronavirus, a pandemic threat that demands unity rather than racism, as it does not distinguish between nations or religions. I am very proud of how Arab doctors and medical staff in Israel, including myself, have attended thousands of patients without distinguishing between Arabs or Jews (as Jewish doctors are also doing).
This is a humanitarian contribution based on our values to all the citizens of Israel despite the racism of Netanyahu – using this health crisis to paralyze the institutions of the state and indulge his autocratic tendencies.
The approach of the Netanyahu government has been fully endorsed by the Trump administration. Its annexation plan that some called the “Deal of the Century” presents a racist vision that, regretfully, brought more votes to the extreme right in Israel. Not only does it pave the way for the handing over of 30% of Palestinian land to Israel, it even allows for the transfer of almost 300,000 Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel to the nonsovereign archipelago referred to by the Trump team as the “future Palestinian State.”
The Trump plan is a recipe for apartheid, something 50 former European leaders and ministers, including former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Britain’s former foreign secretary Jack Straw, former EU High Representative Javier Solana and Ireland’s former president Mary Robinson, have recognized. It is time to cease the accommodation of policies of racism and annexation.
The international community has the responsibility to reaffirm the importance of international law and to take concrete measures against Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and those supporting them.
A just and lasting peace that includes the right to equality for almost 1.5 million Arab Palestinian Christian, Muslim, and Druze citizens of Israel cannot be ignored forever. Discriminatory laws must be eliminated. Israel should act in accordance with signed international treaties and agreements, which it continues to systematically violate.
This election has shown that old paradigms of accommodation to Israel’s racist policies and violations of international law have failed. The Joint List will continue to build capacity to bring the best out of Arab and Jewish societies in Israel based on the principles of social justice and equality, while seeking to achieve independence for a State of Palestine on 1967 borders, with which Israel can coexist in peace and security.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece identified Dr. Tibi as head of the Joint List. He is the head of the Joint List faction as it functions as a legislative bloc in Israel's parliamentary body, the Knesset, not the head of the party coalition writ large.