ISSN 2330-717X

An Islamic Arab Party May Make An Israeli Government – OpEd

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Lacking a clear path to forming a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is delving deep into his bag of political tricks. To reach a majority, Netanyahu needs the support of Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who he has already met. However, even with Yamina’s seven seats, Netanyahu would still be two seats shy of a majority.

Some people in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc have entertained a government propped up by the Islamist Arab Ra’am party, which with its four seats emerged from the elections as a potential kingmaker.

Netanyahu’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party have rejected such a prospect but the fact that it is being considered is an amazing change in the views of most Israelis.

For example after sticking with Benjamin Netanyahu through four inconclusive elections, ultra-Orthodox allies of the incumbent prime minister have told him that they will not go with him into a fifth election if he fails to form a coalition with the support of the conservative Islamic Arab party Ra’am.

This follows an amazing poll published on April 4 that found 48 percent of Israelis now back forming a government with the outside support of Arab parties, showing public feeling has more than doubled to the idea compared to where it was just 14 months ago; when only 23% of Jewish voters backed the idea. 

The Israel Democracy Institute’s Voice Index for March survey found that in the wake of four inconclusive elections for the Knesset in two years, and which in the last election has left one Arab Islamic party in a realistic kingmaker position; Israelis need to think of new paths for the future.

The Islamist Ra’am party is being courted by both sides to help tip the balance with the four seats it controls. Ahead of the recent elections, Ra’am split off from the Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab leftist parties that had long represented the Arab community in the Knesset.

Among supporters of specific parties, those on the left and in the center tended to have a majority in favor of a government that relies on Arab parties, with support dropping below half as ideology tended toward the right and religious parties. However, the Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism supporters were 52% in favor of Arab party support, compared to just 39% among voters for fellow ultra-orthodox party Shas. 

The least support ā€” and greatest objection ā€” came from Likud, Yamina, and the Religious Zionism right-wing parties. Likud voters are only 36% in favor, with 26% for each of the other two parties. Yet even in those parties, there has been a marked change from February 2020, when opposition to a government relying on Arab parties was 80% among Likud voters. That figure has since dropped to just 51%. It was 83% opposing in each of the other two right-wing parties last year but was down to 63% in the recent survey. 

The elections saw an unprecedentedly low turnout among Arab voters of only 44.6%. Among the Arab public, the reasons given were the way the government deals with issues in the Arab community (33%) and disappointment in the left-wing Joint [Arab] List party as political leaders (31%).

Among Jewish voters, 36% said they think it was the disappointment in the Joint List that caused the low turnout among the Arab public. The Joint List finished with six seats in this election compared to twelve (plus 3 Ra’am seats) in the last election. 

If the Muslim Ra’am party makes itself part of a political coalition government it will be a very important step toward the 2,500-year-old prediction by Prophet Isaiah that: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians will go to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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