Sixteen days before the March 2 general election, the Joint List launched sector-based campaigns on Sunday, February 16, in Yiddish, Russian and Amharic, seeking to present itself as the electoral choice for all marginalized communities in Israel.
On that day, the Joint List began displaying posters in the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) areas of cities like Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh which read, “Your vote against the conscription decree,” making reference to the unwillingness of most haredi men – with the overwhelming support of the ultra-orthodox community in general – to be legally obligated to serve in the Israeli army, a long sought goal of Zionist parties, but one which has historically been relinquished time and again to enable governments, right and left, to form coalitions with the main haredi parties.
Another message, in Hebrew and Amharic (a native language of Ethiopia spoken and read by Israelis originating from that country), was also put up on Sunday in areas where many Ethiopian Israelis live, including the cities of Petah Tikva and Rehovot, and reads, “Your vote against police brutality.” This message expresses the experience shared by many Israelis of Ethiopian-origin who suffer from racist and discriminatory treatment by police, a phenomenon which has fueled angry protests by this community in recent years.
In cities with large communities of Russian-speaking immigrants, like the Bat Yam and Ashdod, who emigrated to Israel from Russia, Moldova and Ukraine, posters in Hebrew and Russian read, “Your vote for equality and civil rights.” There are many tens of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who who are not recognized as Jews by the state’s Chief Rabbinate, but who emigrated to Israeli based on the 1952 Law of Return, which allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent to obtain citizenship. Because they are not recognized as Jews by the established rabbinate, these persons are not permitted to register to be married in a Jewish ceremony (even when marrying a “recognized Jew”), and allege discrimination against themselves in a wide range of manners and circumstances.
Several weeks ago, Russian Israelis were in the spotlight of Israel’s perennial “Who is a Jew?” controversy after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of genetic testing to determine whether or not one should be recognized as a Jew. The ruling came in the wake of racist incitement by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef who alleged that immigrants from the former Soviet Union are “not Jews at all but rather Communists. Hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of non-Jews came to Israel.”
The leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), explained the idea behind the new campaigns targeting marginalized citizens: “Incitement is the right wing’s biggest achievement — and real victory will come only when we tear down the walls separating all the state’s citizens… The Joint List will promote the interests of the Arab society and of all marginalized communities.”
In stark contrast, Blue & White leader MK Benny Gantz gave multiple interviews on Saturday, February 15, in which he repeated his vow that he will not invite the Joint List to join a coalition after the elections. Gantz maintains that he won’t need the support of political alliance with the Joint List in order to become prime minister. “I will not sit down with the Joint List; I do not need their support,” Gantz told Channel 12 news.
MK Odeh told the audience present at an event in the southern city of Be’er Sheva on the morning of the same day, “I don’t know if Gantz and the Likud will succeed in forming a unity government without us; there may in fact be such a possibility.” However, Odeh emphasized “We most definitely want to prevent [far-right Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu from continuing in his current role. But to do this, Blue & White must reveal to us what their true platform is. I, for one, still do not know what it is. If it is a platform of peace, democracy, and cooperation between Jews and Arabs – we will seriously support it. However, if their platform calls for unilateral annexation and all sorts of ideas that lean to the right – then we will not support them. We need to hear from them explicitly the day after the elections.”
Odeh has also ruled out joining any government that includes racist MK Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beytenu party. Lieberman, from his perspective, reiterated that he does not oppose joining a government with the newly formed “center-left” Labor-Gesher-Meretz slate. “There’s no more Meretz,” Lieberman said of the party considered to be the most progressive out of the three. “Once there’s no more Meretz, it makes things much simpler.”