Arab Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi needs help challenging new Israeli government

Arab Joint List’s Ahmad Tibi needs help challenging new Israeli government

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Ahmad Tibi, of the Joint List party, in East Jerusalem, February 23, 2020. (Reuters)

With Benny Gantz having caved in to the whims of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have only one option moving forward: Total opposition to the government. This is a reference to what long-time Knesset Deputy Speaker and Arab Joint List co-leader Ahmad Tibi told me this week when asked what his 15-seat coalition can do. “Totally against this government,” he said.

Tibi is right. Given Gantz’s surrender to Netanyahu in exchange for a “sharing agreement” that will allow him to take over as prime minister in 18 months’ time — if the government survives that long — the Palestinians’ only option is to firmly challenge the government’s extremism. According to Tibi, this means that the Joint List has an opportunity to define itself more effectively against the Israeli leaders’ extremist policies.

Tibi said that the Joint List, which he leads along with Ayman Odeh, will focus on two priority issues in the coming year: Opposing the government’s plans to annex major parts of the West Bank and fighting to suspend a law that allows Israel to destroy Arab homes.

The Joint List may only have 15 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, but it could probably enlist some support from the far left, including some who are members of the Netanyahu-Gantz government. However, they won’t have enough votes to derail Netanyahu’s destructive agenda. But that is irrelevant. Now that it is the true voice of Israel’s opposition, the Joint List has an elevated platform, not only in Israel but also in the West, to speak out against Israeli human and civil rights violations.

Doing so will require a better-organized public relations campaign and a fine-tuned political strategy that, if done right, would convey the Joint List as equals in confronting Israel’s new government. Those 15 Arab members of the Knesset may not be able to turn a vote in their favor, but they can turn public opinion against Netanyahu and Gantz.

Netanyahu’s weakness will be aggravated in the coming months, as the Israeli Ministry of Justice pursues its corruption case in the courts. Netanyahu is charged with three crimes. The first is accepting and exchanging favors with Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Netanyahu reportedly accepted as much as $264,000-worth of goods between 2006 and 2016.

The second charge involves Netanyahu seeking to improve his image by “bribing” Arnon Mozes, the publisher of one of Israel’s largest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu would, in return, limit the circulation of Yedioth’s largest rival, a newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson.

The final charge involves “bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” in which Netanyahu allegedly took regulatory steps to benefit wealthy tycoon Shaul Elovitch, who controls one of Israel’s largest telecommunications companies, trading favorable government policy for positive media coverage.

Tibi’s strategy, as laid out to me, is smart because it strikes at the heart of Netanyahu’s appeal for public sympathy and support. By annexing major areas of the West Bank, Netanyahu would be pandering to the settlers and political extremists in Israel who in turn would show support for him during his corruption trials. And pushing ahead with the law to evict Palestinians from their homes also fuels that extremist base and reinforces Netanyahu’s popularity in an Israel that continues to move further and further away from the option of peace.

But having the issues on your side is not enough. The Joint List needs a stronger and more effective public relations strategy to carry its message not only to Israel’s citizens — allies and foes alike — but also to successfully take that message to the Western news media. Although much of the Western media tends to favor Israel in its coverage, whitewashing Israel’s atrocities and exaggerating Arab actions, they can still provide support to the just cause of the Palestinians simply because of the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu. If the prime minister’s legal problems are the focus, the media tends to be more critical.

Tibi’s strategy is smart because it strikes at the heart of Netanyahu’s appeal for public sympathy and support.

Ray Hanania

But Tibi, Odeh and the Joint List can’t do it alone. They need support from the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and they need support from the Arab world, which needs to step up and put pressure on Israel. 

The Arab world must support the Palestinian citizens of Israel not only with strong words and actions, but also funding to fuel a powerful public relations campaign. And the Arab world has the resources. The Palestinians on the front lines, like Tibi and Odeh, have the courage and the will to stand up to bullying in the Knesset. They need the Arab world’s support and backing.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania 
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view