Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis on the center-left – many of whom voted for Kahol Lavan a month ago – were deeply disappointed, even devastated, when party leader Benny Gantz opted last week to join a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, Kahol Lavan had vowed that it would never serve in a cabinet under the Likud leader who faces trial on corruption charges.
But as badly as Jewish voters took Gantz’s violation of a key campaign promise, Arab voters – only a small share of whom opted for Kahol Lavan – seem to have taken it worse, perhaps because there was so much more at stake for them.
Indeed, Gantz got first dibs at forming the government thanks in large part to the 15 members of the Arab-led Joint List (including its hard-line Balad faction) who recommended him. With a bit more stamina and resolve, his critics believe, he could have used this support to bring an end to Netanyahu’s long reign.
Although the center-left’s leader was not yet comfortable enough to invite the Joint List to join his government, having it support a minority center-left government headed by Kahol Lavan was definitely seen as an option. Not only would the Joint List have emerged as an important power broker in Israeli politics in that case, it would have won important concessions for Israel’s Arab minority in exchange for its support.
“We had pinned our hopes on Gantz being the savior of Israeli democracy, which has been so threatened by Netanyahu and his cronies,” says Dr. Ziad Mahameed, a general practitioner from the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. “His surrender is a huge disappointment, and many of us who dared believe change was possible now feel utterly despaired.”
An Arab woman voting in Kafr Qasem, April 9, 2019.Moti Milrod
It was far from a simple decision for the Joint List, which won 15 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the March 2 election, to recommend that the former military chief of staff, who once bragged about killing Palestinians, be asked to form the next government, Mahameed says.
“We did this because we hoped it would start a process of democratization that would bring an end to racism and divisions and Israeli society,” says Mahameed, a longtime activist in the far-left Hadash party, one of four factions in the Joint List.