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A party for Arabs and Jews offers new hope to the left


Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka, leader of the new Da’am [Solidarity] Workers’ Party. Photo by Daniel Bar-On. See item 2.

Vote for Arab-Jewish parties, or don’t vote at all

By Noam Sheizaf, +972
January 5, 201

Just as an American wouldn’t imagine voting for a party that does not accept blacks, progressive Israelis should only consider voting for parties that challenge the separation between Palestinian and Jews.

A couple of weeks ago, the Knesset’s Central Elections Committee forbade media outlets from referring to Hadash, Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al as “Arab parties” in their polling results, and called on outlets to refer to each party individually. Nobody would think to publish a poll in which United Torah Judaism and Shas appear in one column as “the ultra-Orthodox,” but all the Hebrew papers, including Haaretz, have reached the conclusion that it is okay to treat Arabs as one bloc – despite the fact that the difference between the religious Ra’am and the socialist Hadash is way bigger than the one between Naftali Bennet of the Jewish Home and Likud.

This is but a symptom of a national problem. In almost 65 years, no government has ever included one of the Arab parties in the coalition, and there has only been one Arab minister in history. The Jews in Israel have grown to see the Arabs as people whose share in the state is always in question, whose citizenship is never secured, whose status should always be lower and who altogether needs to thank the majority for being allowed to live here.

The left and the center are to blame for this state of affairs even more than the right. After all, it was never a secret that the right sees Israel as a state for Jews only. Racism was always the main course for them, not just the sauce. But those who legitimized the discrimination are the liberals from the left and the center, who religiously followed the idea of “a Zionist coalition” (code name for Jewish-only), and have always emphasized the abyss that lies between them and the Arabs. Lieberman was okay for them, but Hadash wasn’t – despite the fact that the left’s values should be much closer to Ahmad Tibi’s or to those of Balad, which was, by the way, the first Israeli party to reserve one-third of its Knesset representation for women, to note just one example.

In fact, the only time the left and the center parties pay any attention to the Arabs is before the election, when everyone complains about the low turnout among Palestinian citizens, diminishing the chances of the so-called “peace camp” to secure a majority against the right-Orthodox bloc. With such an approach, the only surprise should be that the turnout is not even lower.

Cooperation between Palestinian and Jews is by far the greatest, most important challenge in this country. Every element of Israeli life – from the education system to zoning plans – is constructed to promote ethnic separation, with politics being just the tip of the iceberg. But despite the fantasies of many people, both populations will continue to live here, side by side, for many years to come. Therefore, the ability to create joint structures and partnerships is the single most important element that would determine the chances of survival and the quality of life for the entire society.

The necessary conclusion for me is that it is simply forbidden to vote for parties which are not shared by Palestinians and Jews, or for ones that preserve the policy of separation between Palestinians and Jews. There are no perfect parties, but this should be the basic condition, just as an American shouldn’t vote for a party that doesn’t accept black people. Therefore, in the coming elections, the parties to consider are Hadash, Da’am and Balad. The considerable flaws of each one of these parties are of less importance than the fact that they promote joint political action by Palestinians and Jews. Another non-Zionist Knesset faction, Ra’am-Ta’al, is a religious party, an ideology which, in my opinion, does not present a good base for long-term cooperation. Meretz has taken a major step forward by placing a Palestinian candidate at the fifth seat (which may get him into the Knesset), but it still carries a burden of proof on this issue. To the right of Meretz there is but a wide desert of racism and ethnic exclusion.


In an Arab woman, a new hope for Israel’s left

Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka is creating a new political discourse in Israel: revolutionary on one hand but non-radical on the other.

By Avner Cohen, Ha’aretz
January 06, 2013

Something fascinating, innovative, authentic and hopeful is happening on the Israeli left and it has happened almost overnight. Though this something is still embryonic, a small bud not yet on the opinion poll radar, those following the left’s dire situation can’t miss it. For the first time since perhaps the death of Jewish-Arab communism of the 1950s, a new Israeli left has been born here, a left that carries hope and a new kind of vision.

This new left has a name and a voice and, to be precise, it’s the voice of an Arab woman. Her name is Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka and she is the leader of the Da’am Workers’ Party. Da’am (Arabic for “solidarity”) is unique both for its joint Jewish-Arab slate of candidates and for a platform that isn’t sectarian or ethnically specific but integrates and embraces many diverse communities. These dual characteristics are something the old Israeli left lost ages ago.

Until a few weeks ago, the upcoming election lacked any spark of hope. Mostly, this stemmed from the expected victory of the right, which would give a democratic seal of approval to the transformation of Israel into a racist-fascist state, a benighted and bullying ghetto state fulminating against the world and ensuring its continued existence by the sword alone.

The election looked like a requiem for the little that was left of the Israeli enlightenment of the past. The insufferable political conduct of Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich – for whom the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble and social justice stops at the separation fence – only increased the left’s despair. Even Meretz, the standard-bearer of the old Israeli Zionist left and a kind of default choice, looks pathetic in its weakness. Case in point: Hatnuah and its head, Tzipi Livni, for whom social justice means nothing but opportunism, are grabbing all the leftist votes that Yacimovich has lost by ignoring the diplomatic issues.

But then, at the beginning of December, I discovered Aghbarieh-Zahalka and the Da’am party via Facebook and YouTube. I found a new breed of Israeli leader. Aghbarieh-Zahalka was one of the authentic leaders of the 2011 social-justice protests and one of the few who understood that if a protest aims to be effective, it has to be political. Aghbarieh-Zahalka was also perhaps the first to understand that a mass social protest has to extricate itself from the binary pattern of the old Israeli political identities (Arabs vs. Jews, Ashkenazim vs. Mizrahim) since social justice must be built on what unites, not on what divides.

I discovered a courageous, intelligent and eloquent Israeli leader, unlike anyone else on the political stage today. Aghbarieh-Zahalka is creating a new political discourse: revolutionary on one hand but non-radical on the other (no, these are not contradictory). If the prevailing Israeli political discourse works in the spirit of divide and conquer, Da’am’s political discourse is built on the desire to connect and lead and the ability to empathize and be relevant to nearly every constituent of Israeli society.

In the darkness of contemporary Israel, Aghbarieh-Zahalka’s enlightened voice may be the last spark of Israeli hope. Those who are not prepared to stay sheltered in the Tel Aviv bubble and forgo the struggle for the country’s image, those who still believe in the possibility of a better, fairer and more just society, and those who believe in the possibility of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation in our lifetime should vote for the candidate that best expresses the values of Israeli enlightenment: Aghbarieh-Zahalka.

To those who say a vote for Da’am is a wasted vote (because of the risk the party won’t cross the electoral threshold), I say any ballot that is cast must reflect one’s political conscience. And if Aghbarieh-Zahalka and Da’am become better known in the short time left until the election, they will make it into the Knesset. The Knesset – and Israel – needs leaders like them.


Da’am Workers Party (DWP): Basic Principles

About Da’am

The Da’am Workers Party (DWP) here sets forth a program for revolutionary change in Israeli society, based on the principles of integration, equality, and social justice. We believe that these principles cannot be implemented under the regime of global capitalism. Their realization requires a socialist society which honors human welfare above profit.

Peace. DWP seeks peace based on an end to the Occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the 1967 lines as its border. The Oslo Accords, in our view, created an unhealthy situation. The Palestinian Authority (PA) arose as a subcontractor of Israeli occupation, while Israel’s governments continued to build settlements. Given the political, economic and social situation that today prevails in the Occupied Territories, the PA has lost credibility in the eyes of its people. DWP believes that a “Palestinian Spring” is in the offing. It will overthrow the PA and face Israel with two choices. One alternative is direct occupation (i.e., de facto annexation of the Territories) with all that this entails: perpetuation of apartheid, one people deprived of its rights by another; surrender of all pretence of Israeli democracy; ever sharper confrontation with a world that has lost its patience; and finally, war. The other alternative is complete withdrawal from the Territories and dismantlement of the settlements. Until now no Israeli government has been willing to choose the second of these. Nothing less than social and political revolution can put an end to the Occupation.

Peace with the Arab world can only be made by supporting the Arab Spring, supporting the struggle of Arab youth, women, farmers and workers against the dictatorships and for democracy. DWP unreservedly supports the Syrian people’s struggle for freedom against the murderous Baath regime. Despite the attempts by the Islamic movement to co-opt the Arab Spring, DWP sees the democratic revolutions—fromTunisandEgypttoLibyaandSyria—as a necessary phase on the road to modernizing Arab society. It is no longer necessary to choose between a regime of capitalist oppression and Islamic law. The Arab Spring presents a third way, a democratic way, responsive to the interests of the vast majority. An end to the Occupation is a condition forIsrael’s joining a new and democraticMiddle East.

Equality. This is a basic principle for any democracy. The State of Israel commits systematic and deliberate discrimination against the Palestinian citizens within its borders. DWP sees this discrimination, along with recent racist legislation, as a recipe for aggravating racial and nationalist tension between the two population groups.

DWP acts within the Arab population inIsraelto bring about revolutionary social change. We seek to reverse a situation in which, against a background of religious extremism and blind nationalism, the lives of women and youth are dominated by family, clan and ethnic group.

Social justice. In the summer of 2011, a huge protest movement brought social justice to the top ofIsrael’s political agenda. Israeli youth joined their counterparts in the squares ofCairo,Tunis,Madrid, andNew York. DWP joined the social protest from its inception, following many years of grass-roots work on the issues.

DWP blames the worldwide neoliberal capitalist regime for the destruction of the production-based economy and the social fabric. Unemployment, social gaps, the loss of affordable housing, cuts in health services, education, and welfare—all are signs of a global blight that harms the world’s nations in various ways. The same blight lies at the basis of the Arab revolutions and the protest movements in Europe andAmerica. Like all Israeli governments since the Stabilization Plan of 1985, the present one implements an extreme neoliberal policy. This has created a thin layer of the wealthy, who take advantage of privatization to buy the society’s assets. At the other extreme, more than a million workers are living below the poverty line.

DWP acts within the protest movement to bring about revolutionary, anti-capitalist change. We seek to integrateIsrael’s Palestinian population with the protest movement on the basis of ground that is common to the youth and the workers. Poverty has no color, religion or national group, and wages today are bad for both Jews and Arabs. Solidarity between the two groups is the guarantee for a revolutionary change in Israeli society, just as it is vital for achieving peace.

Socialism. DWP views socialism as the alternative to the present capitalist regime, which has forfeited the trust of its citizens. Democracy is emptied of content, because capital has bought the halls of power. The Knesset does not represent the sovereign will of the people. As an alternative, we seek a regime for which labor will be the determining value, a regime in which the society—and not profit-driven companies—manages the economic resources, one in which the political parties express what people want, a society which encourages a productive economy. The capitalist regime has made financial speculation into the principal economic activity. DWP wants an end to speculation, financial pyramids, hedge funds, and the other institutions of the virtual economy. We want to redirect all resources toward development, job creation, and the strengthening of the state in administering and supervising the economy for the sake of the society as a whole.

Unionization. DWP initiated the forming of WAC-MAAN. This is an alternative trade union inIsrael which today organizes factory workers, college instructors, farm laborers, and truck drivers. MAAN takes a different direction from the Histadrut, which has lent its hand to a number of anti-labor trends: privatization, contract work, division of workers into more and less favored classes, and importation of laborers lacking all rights. The Histadrut has left 70% of the country’s workers without union representation. We established MAAN to provide a remedy for hundreds of thousands of Jews, Arabs and Soviet immigrants who work without social benefits under severe conditions. MAAN supports full equality for all workers inIsrael without regard to differences in religion, race, nationality, or gender.

The Knesset. DWP views the Knesset as an important arena for expression of the voter’s will, and as a source of support for grass-roots action among workers, youth, and women. The Knesset elections are for us a way of gauging our support and testing our positions. We ask those who share our basic principles to vote for us in order to influence the struggle for social change. The workers today have no other “address” that will faithfully express their interests, and DWP provides a remedy for this lack. The Knesset is not the only arena for bringing about the needed change, but a public mandate will express support for this. In the Knesset, DWP will act for legislation expressing the will of the working public—and not the interests of a tiny group of wealthy families or special sectors such as the settlers. The struggle to enter the Knesset goes hand in hand with DWP’s grass-roots work for social change.

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