Israel Pulse

Have Israeli-Arab parties sided with Hezbollah?

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Article Summary
Israeli Arab parties Balad and Hadash condemned the decision by the GCC to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which leaves many Israelis puzzled by this decision.

Hadash and Balad, two of three Arab parties making up the Joint List, issued separate statements slamming the March 3 decision by the Gulf Cooperation Council to include Hezbollah on the GCC's list of terrorist organizations. Whereas Balad’s statement also included criticism of Hezbollah and its involvement in the war in Syria, Hadash’s carefully worded statement could not be construed any other way than as support for the Shiite organization.

Published only in Arabic, Hadash’s statement condemned the GCC as well as Arab interior ministers, claiming they serve Israel’s interests and the ongoing occupation. The photo attached to the condemnation — Lebanese demonstrators waving a Hezbollah flag on the Lebanese border against the backdrop of Israeli communities in the north — gives rise to a strong sense that Hadash did issue a statement in support of Hezbollah.

That statement took many of the faction’s Knesset members by surprise, leaving them embarrassed and confused. According to them, they had no prior knowledge that the controversial statement would be published. Some of them told Al-Monitor that they understand in principle the desire to condemn the decision by the Gulf states, yet the timing of the statement was off and its wording resulted in an internal dispute. Despite the great embarrassment, none of them has taken issue with the content of the statement. “Go to the sponsors of the statement, the bureau members of the Communist Party of Israel, and specifically the party’s secretary-general,” said a Hadash lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We are a party that has a faction and not a faction that has a party,” Adal Amar, secretary-general of the Communist Party of Israel, told Al-Monitor. “There are things we publish because they are in keeping with our ideology as a communist party. And when it comes to such things, we do not involve Hadash Knesset members, who are a political faction.”

In order to understand how it is possible for the Communist Party’s center to issue a statement over the heads of its legislators, the party’s structure needs to be explained. Hadash was established as a political movement in 1977 on the basis of the Communist Party of Israel, in the wake of the first Land Day events in March 1976, marked annually on March 30. Party members sought at the time to expand its ranks, which had diminished over the years due to a splintering, mainly over the issue of communist ideology, of which wide circles in Arab society disapproved. To increase its influence and political clout, a decision was made to set up the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality — Hadash — and to include non-communist public figures and academics who were willing to accept the new political movement’s principles of peace and equality.

Most of Hadash’s Knesset members, including Ayman Odeh, the faction’s chairman and Joint List chair, are not members of the Communist Party. One of Hadash’s leading activists told Al-Monitor that a new reality is emerging and that people are wearing different hats in the faction, which is one component that makes up the big jumble of all the movements and streams in Israeli-Arab society. For example, Communist Party member Mohammad Barakeh used to be Hadash's chairman and also represented Hadash in parliament, while today, the first person on Hadash’s slate — Odeh — isn’t even a member of the Communist Party. And that’s the reason why the people setting the tone on an issue as highly charged as Hezbollah are the party’s secretary-general as well as the bureau members.

“We only expressed an opinion, not support,” Amar argued. “We condemned the decision of the Gulf Cooperation Council because we believe it serves its interest to continue its existence as benighted regimes. It's trying to shift the weight from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is the key problem in the Middle East, to an ethnic conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, which isn’t the real conflict.”

Amar gingerly continued to further explain his position: “We, as a party, do not agree with everything Hezbollah represents. We certainly don’t agree with the fact that it is an ethnic, religious and Shiite party, and we certainly object to the killing of civilians. But how can you call an organization that’s fighting for the liberation of its land a terrorist organization? Every struggle for liberation sees things such as the murder of civilians and those things should be condemned. But to say that only Hezbollah butchers civilians? Who isn’t butchering civilians over there? Doesn’t the Islamic State [IS] butcher civilians? If IS had won, what would have happened in Syria?”

From talks with Hadash members as well as with members from the Communist Party, it seems that the line leading to the condemnation of the Gulf states, which was not in keeping with the party and the political faction’s fundamental views, stems from fear of an international conspiracy that is ostensibly being concocted by Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is why — in their view — they need to side even with the devil in order to scuttle the so-called conspiracy.

Hezbollah is a religious Shiite movement that is worlds apart from the Communist Party. This is particularly so when we’re also talking about a military movement that seeks to cement the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who more than any other Arab leader in the Middle East is the icon of a benighted regime.

Reacting right on the money to the statements from Hadash and Balad, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said succinctly, “Have you gone mad?” With that, he relayed the sentiments of Jews and Arabs who really cannot understand what those parties were thinking.

The deafening silence of Knesset member Dov Khenin, the only Jewish lawmaker in the Hadash faction, seemingly speaks volume of the unsettling atmosphere among Arab legislators. “Comrade Dov Khenin is not only a party member but he is also a figure we can take pride in,” Amar said. “Even when the Joint List was formed and he was the only Jew on the slate, it was hard for him. We, in the party, have a central committee and a political bureau. We’ll hear what comrade Khenin has to say and then we will issue an orderly statement.”

Khenin, a resident of Tel Aviv, will likely find it hard to explain to his voters and supporters what he is doing in a party that, on one hand, raises the banner of peace and equality while siding with a Shiite-religious-military organization that threatens Israel and butchers innocent civilians to preserve its standing, on the other. 

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Found in: knesset, joint arab list, israeli-palestinian relations, hezbollah-israel conflict, hezbollah, hadash party, gcc, arab-israeli conflict

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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