Home » English » Reports, Publications & Videos » The impact of the Israeli elections on Arab Palestinian youth
The impact of the Israeli elections on Arab Palestinian youth
25/01/2013 - 07:05

By Nadim Nashif

Following the Israeli election two days ago we in Baladna wanted to share with you these quick thoughts on the main impact of the latest Israeli  elections on Arab Palestinian youth citizens of Israel.

The consequences of Israeli elections are never immediately obvious, due to the lengthy process of tactical coalition-building which must take place in the following weeks. However the results, including the surprising success of Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid" new party, combined with a knowledge of contemporary Israeli political discourse mean that some conclusions can already be made.

First of all, the election results should be read in the light of 2 contexts: the social protests which peaked a year and a half ago and which challenged the government to reduce housing and living costs, and the stalled Palestinian peace negotiations. These 2 contexts resulted in the vast majority of Israeli parties deliberately ignoring the Palestinian question, with a new focus on Israeli socio-political issues, and the relationship between the state and its (Jewish) citizens. Lapid in particular capitalised on feelings held by middle-class Israelis of being side-lined by the ideological interests of religious and settler groups. His adoption of the phrase"sharing of the burden", itself used by Netanyahu's bloc, is a call for the Jewish orthodox community of Israel (about 10% of the population) and the Arab community (20%) to serve in the Israeli army in order to "earn" the social benefits it receives. The enlisting of orthodox Jews into the army is an increasingly hot topic in Israeli politics, but with Orthodox parties comprising a key part of Netanyahu's previous coalition, it was never an option. The sudden strong emergence of Lapid's "Yesh Atid" has changed this fundamentally, as Netanyahu now has an option to form a ruling coalition with "Yesh Atid" and the new, ultra-nationalist "Bayit Yehudi", sidelining the Orthodox parties.


While not necessarily immediately obvious, this political power shift between sectors of the Jewish population has a potentially huge impact on the Palestinians citizens of Israel. There are already calls among many of the Israeli politicians to make fundamental civil rights conditional on fulfilling one's "service" to the state, traditionally military service but also a form of "civic" service with built-in military clauses is increasingly visible and aimed at the Arab community. In other words, rights would no longer be automatically given to citizens, but would have to be earned. This sets a dangerous precedent which would facilitate the further erosion of Palestinian civil rights in Israel. Until now this plan has been hampered by the continued exemption of Orthodox Jews from military service. The ending of this policy would deeply effect Palestinian citizens of Israel, who could find that a refusal to serve in the military apparatus of the state (the primary tool of their occupation and oppression) or in the supporting role of the "civic" service would lead to a stripping of remaining, precariously held civil rights.

However, whereas "equality" is the rationale behind this new direction, it is obvious that equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens will be far from the thoughts of the next government. Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu alliance, already responsible for a raft of legislation targeting Palestinian citizens and CSOs, will almost certainly be joined by the ultra-right Beyit Yehudi. Meanwhile it is unlikely that "Yesh Atid" will play the moderating role which some are hoping for. It is telling that in Lapid's first interview after the results came through, when dismissing the chance to form a "centre-left" ruling coalition, he stated that "We will not team with [female Arab politician] Zoabi...that is just not going to happen". It is no coincidence that Lapid singled out one of the few Arab members of the Knesset, out of the 60 being proposed for an alternative coalition. Despite forming 20% of the population of Israel, its representatives are completely excluded from positions of power or decision-making roles, a situation which has been perpetuated over the years by parties from both the right and left, to the extent that it is now an unwritten rule of Israeli politics. It is not Lapid's casual racism in itself which should be shocking, but the fact that what he said is understood to be a self-evident fact by the mainstream Israeli public, unworthy of further reflection.

All of this suggests that Palestinian rights in Israel will continue to be ignored and marginalised, and that some political struggles, such as the increasing attempts by the state to recruit young Palestinians into the army or to supporting "civic" positions, will only get harder. Despite these difficulties, Baladna will continue its work with Palestinian youth, and will in particular stand ready to reinvigorate its campaign in opposition to compulsory military or civic service.