/ FAITH, HOPE…
On Sunday (June 13), if things go as planned, Israel will enter an unfamiliar political phase in its 73-year history. For the first time ever, its governing coalition will have an Israeli Arab party within it.
Many things, most of them unflattering, are said about Mansour Abbas, the dentist who heads that Arab party. Raam, Mr Abbas’s party, is routinely described as “Islamist” and “conservative”. And Mr Abbas himself has been labelled “naïve” for presuming too much, not least that he can play kingmaker, join the government and improve the lives of Israel’s Arab citizens.
But Mr Abbas, a chubby 47-year-old, insists that Raam’s decision to join the government could “change the balance of political forces in the country”.
It’s a bold manifesto, one of hope and faith in the future, and there are reasons to believe Mr Abbas could be on to something.
Let me explain. Mr Abbas had been in full-time politics just three years before he split his party from Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-Israeli parties. The issue was whether or not to join the Israeli government should the opportunity present itself. Mr Abbas argued that Arab-Israelis should not rule out the option of joining government in return for material gains for the Arab community.
Palestinian political analysts such as Diana Buttu have reviled Mr Abbas for this view. They say that “as Palestinians, it is not our role to be kingmaker. We are in opposition to this system. Our role is to protect our community”.
Fair enough, but one has to wonder if a state of entrenched, if muted opposition is really the answer. Israeli Arabs have tried that long enough. Perhaps it’s time for something new?
Then there is the conciliatory nature of Mr Abbas’s politics. Consider his actions during the recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. As rockets flew and air-strikes filled the skies, Arab and Jewish neighbours within Israel clashed. During that tense time, Mr Abbas visited the Israeli city of Lod, to condole with the family of an Arab man who had been killed. Alone, he also went to a local synagogue, which had been torched. Mr Abbas told Lod’s Jewish mayor that “Islamic values forbid harming holy places” and he offered to help with renovating it.
That’s a story you don’t often hear about the leader of Israel’s “Islamist” Arab party. But Mr Abbas does seem to be that rare species in 21st century Israel — a politician who is trying to bring communities together.
Sometimes, it may take a dentist to drill down to the basics of what makes us human.