Since the Oslo Agreement, settler politicians have brought their hateful rhetoric and open violence against Palestinians back across the green line with calls for exiling the remaining Palestinian minority in Israel. Rightist Zionist parties have incorporated exile planks into their election platforms. This past weekend, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated his support for ethnic cleansing by calling for removing Palestinian citizens to areas nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority. And he doubled down on those statements, which we've heard from him previously, with a call for beheading Palestinian citizens of Israel who don't display his brand of loyalty to the state: "Anyone who's with us should be given everything – up to half the kingdom.  Anyone who's against us, there's nothing to do – we should raise an axe and cut off his head; otherwise we won't survive here."  

Hassan Jabareen, founder and director of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, recently noted that when sensing a threat to their physical survival on their land, members of the Palestinian minority turned out en masse in the 1949 Israeli elections, approaching the 80 percent mark. And, make no mistake, the reinvigorated threats against Palestinian rights – and heads – we are currently witnessing from right-wing leaders are very real.


Since the establishment of Israel, no lead party has ever entered into negotiations with the Arab Knesset members to include them in a coalition to form a government. Conveniently, Arab politicians have refrained from clamoring to be included in coalitions sure to oppress Palestinians in the occupied territories. Palestinian citizens of Israel remain all too much like the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964 that was cruelly disenfranchised at the Chicago Convention.  As John Lewis (D), now a U.S. congressman from Georgia, said then, "We had played by the rules, done everything we were supposed to do, had played the game exactly as required, had arrived at the doorstep and found the door slammed in our face." 

Arab parties have yet to break the exclusionary Zionist mold of the executive.  Still intact are long-standing practices solidifying such undeclared principles as the Jewishness of the state, the unitary and supreme nature of Hebrew as Israel’s only de facto official language, and the sanctity of the Law of Return. Worse, and too frequently unmentioned, is the fact that four million more Palestinians in the occupied territories, whose lives are effectively controlled by Israel, have no vote whatsoever for the government which most dictates the nature of their lives and circumscribed liberties. 

Those undeclared principles, set in motion by Ben Gurion and maintained religiously since, led to disagreement among members of Netanyahu’s coalition resulting in the announcement of the current early elections. Netanyahu wants such principles declared openly and set in constitutional law. 

Why does the prime minister need to take such internationally disadvantageous steps? He is determined to outflank the extreme rightist politicians and outdo them at their own game while laying claim to a status equal to that of the founder of the state and its first prime minister.  

At the same time, Netanyahu, not content with limiting the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority, is challenging the president of the United States in his own capital, and alienating much of the Congressional Black Caucus in the process, ostensibly to defend Israel against the declared existential threat from Iran. The over-the-top Washington spectacle may well seem like megalomaniacal tendencies from the outside. Within Israel the brazenness of his challenge to President Obama is admired as distinctive Israeli chutzpah. Netanyahu has thus managed to bring the current Israeli elections to the United States. Most other politicians have to campaign at home on local issues, issuing minor league challenges at best, reduced to defamatory accusations against Netanyahu’s wife regarding her apparent proclivity for recycling state-bought bottles and keeping the refunds. 

In the past 15 years a popular topic for the extreme right parties has been their focus on disqualifying the four small Arab non-Zionist parties based on accusations of treason and denial of the state’s Jewishness. In preparation for the current round of elections, Lieberman’s ultra-rightist Yisrael Beiteinu led the campaign to enact an amendment to the law that raised the threshold for a party to be seated in the Knesset from 2 to 3.25 percent of the total valid votes. This, it was hoped, would result in disqualifying those pesky Arab parties.

Blinded by their hateful politics, supporters of this move couldn’t imagine the long-conflicted Arab parties uniting. Deep-rooted partisan differences on issues of nationalism, secularism and feminism, it was thought, would keep them divided. Lo and behold, faced with the threat of extinction the Arab parties put their differences aside and united in a single electoral party. The astute maneuver shifted the political discourse within the Arab minority from internal bickering on sectarian issues to the unifying call to practice the democratic right to vote, turning that to a rallying call against ongoing discrimination by Zionist political parties.  

The mathematics of the relative nature of the new law reveal that if the turnout of Arab voters were to exceed 80 percent of their qualified adults, the bar would be raised numerically to where Lieberman’s party and one or more other extreme rightist Zionist parties would sink below the required threshold for inclusion in the Knesset. That would be poetic justice for Lieberman, not to mention testament to the resilience of the Palestinian people.

Kanaaneh is a public health physician, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and the author of the recently released short story collection, “Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor’s Tales of Life in Galilee.”