Thursday, February 26th, 2015...1:05 pm

A case for Israel’s first Arab prime minister

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Recent polls find that the new unified Arab list could become the third largest in the Knesset

By MOSHE GIT

Elections for Israel’s 20th Knesset will be held March 17; it would be good for Israel if Tibi, rather than Bibi, becomes the prime minister.

Ahmad Tibi is an Israeli-born Arab, a physician and a member of the Knesset. He has been very conspicuous in the Israeli news media. He is known for providing medical services to Yasser Arafat. While not a Zionist, he advocates a two-state solution and that Israel exists as a state belonging to all of its citizens (i.e., not characterized as Jewish).

Tibi also is known for having delivered a moving speech to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in 2010, at the Israeli Knesset. Then-Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin (who is now president of Israel) called it “one of the best speeches he has ever heard in the plenum” about the Holocaust.

Ahmad Tibi (Photo: The Knesset)

Ahmad Tibi (Photo: The Knesset)

Arabs comprise more than 15 percent of the population of Israel. Until now they were represented in the Knesset by a number of small Arab parties, each of which had a different agenda. Thus, despite the size of the Arab population, those parties could never unite behind a common cause, and were rather marginalized in Israeli domestic politics.

Recently, the Knesset enacted a law to raise the threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent for a party’s inclusion in the Knesset. A party now will have to gain votes sufficient for four representatives. That led the Arab parties to join together.

Recent polls find that the unified Arab list could become the third largest in the Knesset. That could give this party a lot of leverage in a coalition government, especially since none of the leading parties appears set to win more than 20 percent of the vote.

Yet, as it stands, no Jewish party would dare let the Arab party join in a coalition government, although a few Israeli Jews have declared publicly their desire to vote for this party. The most notable endorsee is Avrum Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a Labor Party leader and the son of the leader of the National Religious Party.

Israel’s political landscape needs to change. Disenfranchising a considerable chunk of the population is immoral, undemocratic and dangerous.

Bibi Netanyahu has brought Israel into stagnation. No progress towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, worsening international relations — most remarkably with the United States — spreading poverty, and a rapid escalation in the cost of housing to the point that the great majority of Israelis can’t afford it.

Inviting the unified Arab party to join the coalition government could jump-start solutions to all of the above. A survey indicated that 61 percent of Israeli Arabs are for joining such a coalition. As a leading figure in the Arab party, Tibi would be the appropriate person to head the government.

Imagine the impact from having a Palestinian Arab as the prime minister of Israel. Israeli Arabs would acquire a sense of belonging and of pride. Palestinians and Arab countries would be more amenable to compromises and to living in peace with Israel.

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Moshe Git lives in Minnetonka.

(American Jewish World, 2.27.15)

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