JERUSALEM – With just one week to go before the elections, a prominent Israeli-Arab commentator and social activist says mainstream Jewish political parties are blowing it.
In an exclusive interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, Yoseph Haddad said the major Israeli parties had their best chance ever in this election cycle to court, woo and win disaffected Israeli Arabs, but none of them have taken the effort seriously.
As a result, he said, they have created an opening for the creation of a new, mainstream party of Arabs who are loyal Israeli citizens but want to elect representatives who are serious about joining future Israeli governments and fighting for better police protection of Arab communities, more educational opportunities for Israeli Arabs, and more economic development funds for Arab communities throughout the country.
Haddad – who was born and raised a Christian in Nazareth, served in the Israeli army and was wounded during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – is a columnist for Israel Hayom, the largest circulation newspaper in the country.
We actually named him in our list of Top 21 Israelis to Watch in 2021.
He recently became a commentator for i24 News, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli news network that broadcasts in Israel, the U.S. and worldwide 24 hours a day. Haddad also founded a non-profit, grassroots organization called Vouch For Each Other, dedicated to building closer cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
“I'm very disappointed, very disappointed,” Haddad told me in a Zoom interview. “The Jewish Israeli political parties had a huge opportunity to make a difference [in this election cycle], but they failed big time.”
Haddad said that the good news was that all of the major parties are finally saying publicly they want to court the Arab vote.
That is progress, and a significant change from the Arab community being either ignored or denigrated, or both.
Many parties have even put Arab citizens on their slate of candidates in this round.
But, Haddad notes, most of them put the Arab candidates so far down on their lists that none of them have a realistic chance of entering the next session of parliament.
This was a huge mistake, Haddad said.
Haddad noted that the Joint List – comprised of several Arab parties, including an Islamist party – currently has 15 seats in the Knesset.
But Israeli Arabs are increasingly angry at the members of the Joint List because they consistently refuse to join every government, always stay in the opposition and thus never become cabinet ministers where they would have leverage to fight for real and tangible improvements for Arab communities.
Polls currently show that the Joint List will fall from 15 seats to perhaps just eight or nine.
That, Haddad says, is evidence of the community's anger against Arabs in the government who have not effectively represented them.
This also means that a large number of voters are searching for a party that will take them, their legitimate needs and aspirations seriously.
“We're talking about six to eight seats that the Joint List is losing,” he noted. “Those people, those voters, are looking for a home to vote for.”
“I would have expected – and I have advocated for this in my columns, in my videos, in my lectures everywhere – for the Jewish political parties, the Israeli Jewish political parties, to campaign seriously for them.”
“If you want the Arab votes, you need to respect and show respect and you need to put people [candidates] in a realistic, respectable place [on your slate].”
But it simply isn’t happening.
He was critical of Likud, Yesh Atid, New Hope and other prominent Israeli Jewish parties.
Is it time for a new, mainstream Arab party in Israel? I asked.
Haddad says it is.
“We're working on it,” he said. “The best choice would be an Arab-Israeli political party that would come and say, ‘We don't care about what's happened in Palestine and Gaza and whatever – we care about us.’”
Haddad said a recent poll of Israeli Arabs found that less than 5% say the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is their top priority.
“The first thing [Arabs care about] – with 52% – is… personal security and fighting crime and illegal weapons.”
They also care about jobs, the economy and financial recovery from all the lockdowns due to COVID-19.
I asked Haddad if he would ever consider running for the Knesset himself.
His answer may surprise you.
Here is our interview – it is worth watching in full.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.