January 11, 2022
Scandal—and opportunity—erupt as Arab-Israeli lawmaker says it’s time to accept Israel’s Jewish identity
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Just a few weeks ago, member of the Israeli Knesset, Mansour Abbas—who is
head of Israel’s United Arab List party—said it’s time for his
countrymen to accept Israel’s Jewish identity.
He was met by outrage—both from Arabs inside Israel and out—but he
also received appreciation from Jewish Israelis and many of his fellow
Abbas’ statement reflects a sea change in Israeli politics—a
At a conference organized by the Globes financial newspaper, Abbas
broke new ground for an Israeli-Arab politician, noting that “The State of
Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate
Arab society into it.”
He also said the country is “on the verge of a new era.” Abbas, who heads
the first Arab party to join a governing coalition in Israel, stated
that the country's Jewish identity is “the people's decision . . . [and]
that's how it will remain.”
While the “overthrow” of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister by popular
vote last March was momentous, perhaps an even more significant transformation in Israel’s government is this unique
presence of an Arab party in the ruling coalition.
Israel may never be the same.
Not only does the current governing coalition incorporate parties ranging
from Israel’s hard left to the far right—unlikely as it seems—it
also boldly (albeit of necessity) invited Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List
(UAL) party to join them.
Surprisingly, perhaps, both left- and right-leaning Israelis seem to take
pride in the new Arab presence in the government. Indeed, Abbas and his UAL
may even have a leavening effect on normally bitter left-right animosities among the disparate Jewish parties.
What makes Abbas’ presence in the government—let alone his statement
accepting Israel’s Jewish nature—so transformative is that it reflects in
Israel’s internal politics what the Abraham Accords symbolize in its
The Abraham Accords broke the chokehold held on Arab peace by the
Palestinian Authority, which denied any possibility of reconciliation with
Israel until the PA’s intractable maximalist demands were met for a state
with “1967 borders and a capital in Jerusalem.”
Likewise, the Arab parties in Israel have not only never been
invited to join a ruling government, they have also represented
themselves as opposition to any Israeli government. The Arab-Israeli
parties in Israel’s Knesset (parliament) have generally participated in
Israel’s political system as a hostile force, seeming to protest Israel’s
Mansour Abbas just broke that chokehold, by admitting the obvious: His
fellow Arab-Israeli citizens will forever be a minority in Israel,
and it’s time they begin to work with that reality.
But make no mistake. Just as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (no
relation) continues to rant his vitriolic condemnation of the
Abraham Accords, he equally opposes Mansour Abbas’ statement.
President Abbas condemned the current UAL leader, maintaining he represents only himself and not the Palestinian people. He said, "It is
unfortunate that Mansour Abbas is adopting the false Israeli narrative
instead of supporting his people's struggle," and accused the Arab-Israeli
Knesset member of "falling in line with extremist elements in Israel."
Mansour Abbas’ colleague, the former United Arab List chairman and Islamic
Movement official Masoud Ghanaim shot back: “We in the movement and the
party do not recognize the state as Jewish.”
Both these statements reflect the impotence of the old guard. When
the 86-year-old President Abbas leaves office, the Abraham Accords and the
words of Mansour Abbas will potentially free his successor from chains of
the Palestinian jihad his people have shackled themselves to for 74 years.
Whether they will throw those chains down—and opt for peace with Israel, as
well as greater independence and prosperity—remains to be seen.
Likewise, it’s clear from a string of recent polls that most Arab-Israeli
citizens agree with Mansour Abbas: They like living in Israel and
want to make the most of it. They want representation, they want to
participate in their future. Those Arab-Israeli Knesset politicians who
resist embracing Israel’s democracy may soon find themselves out of office.
To the credit of the Jewish parties in Israel’s ruling coalition, they’ve
shown admirable willingness to cooperate with Mansour Abbas in supporting
significant initiatives to tangibly enhance Arab-Israeli society.
Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have
worked with Mansour Abbas to forge initiatives for improving policing in Arab population sectors, as well as speed
integration of Arab-Israelis into the Start-Up Nation’s economy.
In October, the Israeli cabinet passed two broad plans that would allocate over $10 billion for Arab communities in fields from education to
health to fighting crime.
Bennett said “Our goal is to reduce the gaps in education, welfare, women’s
employment and the economic-municipal sphere in particular.” He continued,
noting that, “As we deepen the math and science education in Arab society,
we will increase the participation of Arabs in the high-tech market,
and we will all benefit.” The plan now goes to the Israeli Knesset, where
it is intended to pass in rounds of budget negotiations.
While neither ruling-coalition kingpins Naftali Bennett nor Yair Lapid
supports negotiations for a Palestinian state, it’s clear that Arab-Israeli
citizens have more to gain from accepting the Jewish state than
trying to dismantle or destroy it.
Most importantly, the tools of democracy are in their hands. By seizing
them and putting them to work—by following the example of Mansour
Abbas—Arab-Israeli citizens stand every chance of creating one of the freest, most successful societies on earth for Arabs.
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