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What is 'right' for Israel? Guest columnist suggests that sometimes a staunch right-wing government is neither the only nor the best path forward

Is the time right to include an Arab party in a coalition, or will Israel be heading to another election later this year?

Party leaders pose for a group picture during the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

A friend asked recently how anyone who supports the right-wing in Israel could advocate for anything other than two right-of-center parties, headed by Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar, to join a government led by the Likud party under Benjamin Netanyahu remaining as prime minister. 

Combined with the two ultra-Orthodox parties and a further right-wing party, they could (easily) form a solid, stable, right-wing government, which – per what my friend posited – is the will of the majority of Israelis. 

This came in light of political negotiations going on as to who will form the next government, with an understanding that all three of these leaders would have to make painful compromises to create or join such a coalition. The premise of the question is that the voters for (all) these parties are of the same mindset and want a right-wing government above all.  

I have a different view.  

I'm right of center, I voted for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party last month, and Likud every election prior except one. I do want any Israeli government to be, or have, a solid right-of-center orientation, however not necessarily above all. I voted for Sa’ar because I very much believe that it’s time for a change at the top and I believe that Sa’ar, of these three, is the only one committed to that. Prime Minister Netanyahu has done a world of good for Israel in many ways. These cannot be diminished or taken for granted.  But, after 15 years, I believe it’s time for him to step aside, or be replaced.  

Israeli elections are complicated. Anyone who votes in an Israeli election knows that compromises have to be made unless, by some miracle, one party (or maybe two) are able to garner 51% of the 120 members of the Knesset to form a government that doesn’t require give and take bordering on being a contortionist. I expect that and expected it as part of the outcome of this election. I want a strong right-wing influence. Yet, I understand that there may need to be issues addressed that I don’t care about, or about which I disagree. I'd rather see a stable government that has a strong right-wing influence than a right-wing government where Netanyahu is just going to play one off the other to buy time until his trial ends or he is pardoned.  

If that means a coalition with others to the left, with whom I disagree on some things the same way I disagree with the ultra-Orthodox parties and the factions of the more far right nationalist Religious Zionism party, I can live with that. I also don’t mind seeing Arab participation as long as it’s not anti-Zionist and treasonous to Israel’s existence as the Jewish state. 

It is unclear whether any new government will need or seek to rely on the support of the four seats of the Arab Islamist Ra’am party. But more now than ever before, such a possibility exists. According to a recent poll, 48% of Israelis don’t mind the participation of an Arab party to form a government. My issue is less about the importance of the representation of Israeli Arabs, some 20% of the population, than who their representatives are and how they relate to Israel as a Jewish state.  

By voting for Ra’am, a good portion of Israeli Arabs voted for change in their own communities as well.  We should facilitate and embrace that. If we’ve crossed the point of no return, and Israeli Arab parties are no longer reflexively hostile to being part of and support the government, and for the bulk of Israeli Jews that’s no longer a red line, that’s a good thing. Indeed, even with an Islamist party, there can be common issues that resonate with a traditional Jewish audience. 

However, the question is whether the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ra’am Party is the Arab hope that Israel, Arabs and Jews, need or is it just the new flavor? Ra’am’s charter calls for the “right of return for Palestinian refugees,” says “there can be no allegiance” to Israel and calls Zionism a “racist, occupying project.”  

According to a Times of Israel article based on a copy of the Ra’am charter, “The State of Israel was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations]. We do not absolve ourselves, the Palestinian people, of our responsibility and our failure to confront this project.”

Many Israelis won’t object to Ra’am’s advocating for a “two-state solution” with a Palestinian state established “alongside Israel.” But many Israelis are opposed to the call to destroy Israeli communities in the “West Bank,” and resist a division of Jerusalem. For most, Ra’am’s option to establish a single bi-national state is an anathema. 

Recently, Ra’am has avoided discussing these and other controversial issues. Party leader Mansour Abbas held an unprecedented primetime address aired live on every major TV station. This was received with what was termed courageous pragmatism, but lacked substance on issues that Israelis who favor greater Arab involvement want to know about. Highlighting the uncertainty, Ra’am Knesset member Walid Taha noted, “We have stances, but now is not the time.” 

Ra’am’s charter further says, “Our political participation, on all its levels, from local government to the legislative authority in parliament, and in official civil authorities, is but an attempt to defend our rights and the interests of our Arab Palestinian community inside [Israel], and to aid our Palestinian cause, and to clash with the proposals and policies and programs of the Zionist project from within the heart of the state institutions.”

Has Ra’am turned a corner and is it willing to support a government now for practical reasons? Or is the lack of discussion of the controversial issues a form of deliberate deception, taqiyya, which is sanctioned in Islam to gain the trust and ultimately defeat others?  

The support and even inclusion of an Arab party in the establishment of an Israeli government is not by definition a bad thing. It could be very good. Yet time will tell as to who may be able to form a government now, whether Ra’am will be part of the equation and to what end, or whether Israel will be heading to another election later this year. 

Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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