Issawi Frej (Meretz) is the only Arab Knesset member today who is not a member of an Arab party. Twelve Arabs serve in the current Knesset, out of which 11 represent Arab parties (Balad, Ra’am-Ta’al and Hadash). This fact is an expression of the growing estrangement between Arab Israelis and the Zionist left-wing parties — a process that accelerated on the heels of the October 2000 riots, in which 13 Arab citizens were killed. Another expression of the growing gap is the sharp decrease in the number of party members from the Arab sector in the Labor Party. While in the past this sector had the power to tilt the balance in the Labor Party, in the recent 2013 election its influence almost totally dissipated.
Frej joined Meretz 20 years ago, when he was an economics and accounting student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. The party was then headed by former Minister Shulamit Aloni. Now he and the other Arab Knesset members are at the epicenter of a political storm, in the wake of the July 31 Knesset resolution to raise the electoral threshold from 2% to 4% of the votes. While Knesset members from the Arab parties argue that this step is directed at harming them, Frej raises the opposite claim in an interview with Al-Monitor. Even though he voted against the bill, Frej feels that the change will actually increase Arab representation in the Knesset, and prefers that this representation will occur within the left-wing Zionist parties.