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Palestinian lawmakers face ‘uphill battle’ following disbandment of the Joint List

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As the Israeli campaign trail moves full speed ahead with just one month left until elections, the news cycle has largely fixated on Netanyahu’s scandals, the Kahanists rise back into the mainstream, and the Gantz-Lapid alliance giving Netanyahu a run for his money.

Once major forces of change and the star underdogs of the previous national elections, the Palestinian lawmakers of the now disbanded Joint List have been pushed to the sidelines of this election cycle, as party infighting and personal rivalries have overwhelmed the bloc — previously the third largest party in the Knesset.

Last month, the Joint List — a coalition of four major Palestinian parties in Israel formed in 2015 — split into two separate alliances.

Now, with just one month left until elections, the new blocs are facing an uphill battle not only to get voters to the polls despite low voter turnout predictions, but more vitally, to restore trust among their base in the wake of all the political infighting.

Mondoweiss spoke with Palestinian lawyer and political analyst Diana Buttu about the demise of the Joint List, and the challenges facing Palestinian politicians and voters in an increasingly right-wing political atmosphere in Israel.

Mondoweiss: Can you give us some insight into how and why everything fell apart?

Buttu: The biggest issues were the structural issues.

Diana Buttu

In Israel, the system is set up so so that you don’t vote for the specific candidate, like in the US. You vote for the list. Given that you’re voting for the list, they have a system within Israel where the person who’s occupying that leadership seat can step down and let someone lower on list take over the position. A lot of parties do this to give people lower down on the list a little experience in governing, changing face, etc.

One of the things they could never agree upon was how to do that rotation system. It was one of those key structural issues they couldn’t figure out. The more fatal issue was, who was leading the list.

In the end it became very much about personality politics over actual policy. It was about “I did this, I did that,” rather than “we as a Joint List pulled this off together.”

Yes the party platforms differ, but on the central issue of Palestinian rights and trying to play defense in a highly offensive fascist Knesset, they were all on the same page. That’s why people are so upset, because when you look at core issues facing Palestinians in Israel, all the parties are voting the same, so why couldn’t they agree on anything?

Mondoweiss: How has all the party infighting affected voter perceptions and trust in the Palestinian lawmakers?

Buttu: From personal observations, we don’t have any concrete data yet, but I say it has had negative effects, because two main things have happened.

We’ve been hearing from academics who once voted in favor of the Joint List and are now speaking very critically of the parties. On the other hand, among the people, there is this whole movement telling the politicians “unite, or we will boycott” elections. People are genuinely upset by all the infighting.

And because the voters are upset, the parties are very aware that they will have to spend a lot of time getting voters to come out and vote, instead of spending time pointing fingers at who caused the demise of the bloc.

Mondoweiss: Polls are predicting a low Palestinian turnout in the elections, do you think this will prove to be true? Will it be even more exacerbated by the failure of the Palestinian parties to unify?

Buttu: Yes and yes. Will it be lower? Definitely. During the last national elections, when the Joint List was created, there was a nine percent boost in Palestinian voter turnout. It came out of the euphoria of the formation of the Joint List.

That euphoria and bump is long gone. Now the question is, how much more is the tearing apart of the Joint List going to contribute to a decline in voter turnout? Of course we have to wait until elections to see, but we’re not in a place now where people are excited about these elections. Now that the dust has settled, people feel that the politicians are operating on different political and self-interests, rather than interests of the people.

Mondoweiss: Do you think the two separate blocs will meet the threshold of votes to get enough seats in the Knesset now that they are not acting as one list?

Buttu: It’s hard to say. The problem with the second list, is that all the figures are new. They don’t have any returning politicians. The Islamic Movement certainly knows how to bring people out to vote, but at the same time it’s hard to say that they are going to meet threshold. I think the Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh list will meet it, but I’m not sure about the second one.

Mondoweiss: Do you think the new coalition between Netanyahu and the Kahanists will motivate Palestinians to vote against them? Or will it just discourage them from voting at all?

Buttu: The Jewish Power Party and the Kahanists have a much more negative influence outside of the country than inside. Not that people here don’t view them negatively, but for Palestinians, there really is no substantive difference between Jewish Power Party and Gantz.

There are shades of differences, but they are same. You have 102 members of the Knesset who don’t believe in full Palestinian rights. The Kahanists are just shades of that. It’s not going be a motivating factor for Palestinians to vote.

In fact, I think what we’re going to see is the opposite. There’s a mentality that “even with the Joint List we weren’t able to overcome the Nation State Law,” so why try?

Mondoweiss: What do you think the members of the former Joint List need to do in order to gain back their ground ahead of the election?

Buttu: It’s too late for them to combine forces again. They are going to have to show that there is some utility to actually voting. They need to show the people that they are willing to work together for voters interests, and put their personal differences aside.  They are facing an uphill battle for sure.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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  1. just on March 6, 2019, 4:24 pm

    Check out this latest in Israeli facism, racism, and apartheid:

    “Far-left Candidate Banned From Israeli Election for ‘Supporting Terror’ Hours After Kahanist Leader Allowed to Run …

    The Central Election Committee disqualified Ofer Cassif, a member of the Hadash-Ta’al joint slate, from running in the election on Wednesday, opposing the opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

    The committee approved the Arab-majority slate itself, and is deliberating a petition to bar the Balad-United Arab List from running. Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir from the Kahanist, far-right Otzma Yehudit party, who the committee approved to run in the election earlier Wednesday, petitioned against both lists.

    MK David Bitan petitioned on behalf of Likud against Balad-United Arab List, and Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman petitioned against Cassif. Petitioners claimed both lists and Cassif supported terror and ruled out Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Democratic state. Mendelblit said he opposed all the petitions.

    Ben-Gvir presented the committee with findings he claimed should disqualify the Hadash-Ta’al slate. He mentioned a call from Ta’al chairman Ahmed Tibi to annul the Declaration of Independence, and quoted a Facebook post by Ayman Odeh, the head of Hadash.

    In the post, written following a meeting with Fatah member Marwan Barghouti at an Israeli prison, Odeh compared Barghouti to Nelson Mandela. “The meeting was moving, as well as speaking to a leader who shares my political stances.” Ben-Gvir noted Odeh defined Ahed Tamimi as an “excellent girl,” and said she showed “legitimate resistance.” Tamimi, a Palestinian teenage girl, served time in prison for slapping an Israeli soldier in 2018.

    Cassif was accused of equating Israel and the Israel Defense Forces with the Nazi regime, and it was noted that he called to fight “Judeo-Nazism,” expressed support for changing the anthem, and called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “Neo-Nazi scum.” He did not attend the session, but was called after committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer insisted on his presence.

    “I come from an academic background, and my area of expertise is among other things the subject of Fascism, Nazis and nationalism in general,” said Cassif, explaining his comments. “When I speak to a friend or write a post as a private person, I use metaphors. When I used the aforementioned terms – they were metaphors.”

    In an interview last month, Cassif said Israel conducts a “creeping genocide” against the Palestinian people.

    Earlier Wednesday, the Central Elections Committee approved Ben Ari, the chairman of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, to run for the Knesset.

    Meretz, Stav Shaffir (Labor) and the Reform Movement, who filed the petition to the Central Elections Committee to ban Ben Ari from running for Knesset, all said they would file a petition with the High Court of Justice against the committee’s decision.

    Prior to deliberations, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit submitted his opinion to the comittee, stating he was in favor of disqualifying Ben Ari from running for Knesset on the grounds of incitement to racism.

    In November 2017, for instance, at an annual memorial for Rabbi Meir Kahane, Ben Ari gave a speech in which he said of Israeli Arabs, “Let’s give them another 100,000 dunams [of land] and affirmative action, maybe they’ll love us. In the end, yes, they’ll love us when we’re slaughtered.”

    In May 2018, Ben Ari gave another speech in which he said, “The Arabs of Haifa aren’t different in any way from the Arabs of Gaza. How are they different? In that they’re here, enemies from within. They’re waging war against us here, within the state. And this is called – it has a name – it’s called a fifth column. We need to call the dog by its name. They’re our enemies. They want to destroy us. Of course there are loyal Arabs, but you can count them – one percent or less than one percent.””

    Such a democracy! //s


    Coincidentally (?), Haaretz also published an extended article and interview with Cassif today… there are many comments.

    “The Knesset Candidate Who Says Zionism Encourages anti-Semitism and Calls Netanyahu ‘Arch-murderer’

    Few Israelis have heard of Dr. Ofer Cassif, the Jewish representative on the far-leftist Hadash party’s Knesset slate. On April 9, that will change

    Ofer Cassif is fire and brimstone. Not even the flu he’s suffering from today can contain his bursting energy. His words are blazing, and he bounds through his modest apartment, searching frenetically for books by Karl Marx and Primo Levi in order to find quotations to back up his ideas. Only occasional sips from a cup of maté bring his impassioned delivery to a momentary halt. The South American drink is meant to help fight his illness, he explains.

    Cassif is third on the slate of Knesset candidates in Hadash (the Hebrew acronym for the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), the successor to Israel’s Communist Party. He holds the party’s “Jewish slot,” replacing MK Dov Khenin. Cassif is likely to draw fire from opponents and be a conspicuous figure in the next Knesset, following the April 9 election.

    Indeed, the assault on him began as soon as he was selected by the party’s convention. The media pursued him; a columnist in the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Ben-Dror Yemini, called for him to be disqualified from running for the Knesset. It would be naive to say that this was unexpected. Cassif, who was one of the first Israeli soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories, in 1987, gained fame thanks to a number of provocative statements. The best known is his branding of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as “neo-Nazi scum.” On another occasion, he characterized Jews who visit the Temple Mount as “cancer with metastases that have to be eradicated.” …”


    • Marnie on March 7, 2019, 9:27 pm

      Thanks for this – I’m going to be watching for Dr. Cassif with guarded anticipation and hope.

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