Published June 14, 2021
Israel’s Knessett voted to depose longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, ending (for now) the Bibi era. With the inclusion of a member from the Arab Ra’am party in the nation’s new governing coalition, the Jewish state now has an opportunity to usher in an era of reconciliation.
Arab-Jewish relations in Israel have always been tense. Israel kept Arab areas under martial law from its founding in 1948 until 1966. Most Israeli Arabs are not required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and relatively few volunteer, although their participation rose during the pandemic. They compose roughly 21 percent of the population, but nearly all Israeli Arabs still live in nearly monolithically Arab-populated towns. They remain poorer and less-educated than Israeli Jews, even as they have equal political and legal rights.
It’s no surprise, then, that Arab voters have rarely supported mainstream Jewish political parties. Arab parties have traditionally received about 80 percent of the vote from Israeli Arabs, and those parties have largely been either extreme leftists, such as the communist-backed Hadash, or been connected to Palestinian nationalism, such as Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al. The latter is so prominent and so loathed by the Israeli right that Netanyahu’s campaign slogan in the 2020 election was “Bibi or Tibi,” a reference to how Netanyahu’s opponents would have had to likely rely on the votes of Tibi’s party in the Knesset to prevail. Those parties, needless to say, could not be part of any governing coalition.
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Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.