Senior members of the Joint List arrive at the president’s official residence on Sunday evening to discuss their choice of the person they want to lead Israel’s next government. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Lesser of Two Evils

Arab parliamentarians recommend Gantz as next Israeli PM, say main goal is to oust Netanyahu

In a historic move, three of the four mostly Arab parties comprising the Joint List have informed Israeli President Reuven Rivlin that they support challenger Benny Gantz over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form Israel’s next government.

The Joint List is the third largest faction in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. One of its spokesman said the decision had come in response to popular support among the country’s Arab citizens.

There is a caveat, though.

“Our recommendation doesn’t mean we support the next Israeli government,” the spokesman said. “There is a difference between recommending who should form the government and our position on the government that is formed.”

Ahmad Tibi, a member of Knesset who leads Ta’al, one of the Joint List’s constituent parties, told The Media Line that the decision had been “difficult but courageous,” the main goal being to bring down Netanyahu, who has “incited against the Palestinian people and deepened the [Israeli] occupation” of the West Bank.

“He plans to annex Palestinian territories and delegitimize the Palestinians and their elected leadership,” Tibi explained.

“Our recommendation was accompanied by us stating our desires for [Israel’s] Arab population, the most important being fighting crime, increasing budgets for Arab towns, repealing racist laws, lifting the blockade of Gaza and preventing any change to the status quo in the Aqsa Mosque,” the Muslim parliamentarian, a practicing gynecologist, said.

Initially, the Joint List told Rivlin that all 13 of its Knesset Members representing all four parties supported Gantz, but it later clarified that one of the parties, the United Arab List/Balad, did not, citing what it called Gantz’s “harsh” record as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as other issues.

Murad Hadad, a member of the party’s political bureau, told The Media Line that Gantz “hasn’t promised the Arabs anything in a country where they are treated like second-class citizens because of laws that Netanyahu enacted and Gantz supports and doesn’t intend to change. Gantz will not provide anything for the Arabs. Why should we take responsibility for this recommendation?”

Hadad said that traditionally, Israel’s Arab parties do not recommend one Israeli candidate over another to form a government.

“What happened is a change from the prevailing approach,” he said, “yet our position is not to recommend any of them.”

Some Israeli Arabs see the recommendation of Gantz, who heads Blue and White, itself a joint list of three centrist parties, as salvation from Netanyahu’s policies.

“It’s not about Gantz, but to bring down Netanyahu,” Nadel Hasanain, an Arab citizen of Israel, told The Media Line, adding that the Blue and White leader’s stance on issues that are dear to Israeli Arabs, such as the peace process with the Palestinians, are not entirely clear.

“There is a possibility that he might be more dangerous than Netanyahu, but we can’t really judge him now,” Hasanain said. “Yes, his military record is shameful, but Gantz might act differently as a prime minister. [Labor Party leader Yitzhak] Rabin was radical but later supported peace with the Palestinians.”

This support for Gantz marks the first time that Arab parties have recommended an Israeli candidate since 1992, when they supported Rabin, who campaigned on a platform of making peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s criticism of the move was scathing, saying there were now two options for the next government: “Either the formation of a minority government that depends on those who renounce Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, as well as glorify the terrorists who are killing our soldiers and our citizens, or the formation of a broad national unity government.”

The prime minister and his Likud party ran on a plank calling for a narrow right-wing coalition led by Netanyahu. However, the outcome of the September 17 election, which saw Blue and White winning more seats than the Likud, made it clear that there is now little chance for such an arrangement.

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