Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mayoral race of Nazareth finally decided in recall election

In Nazareth long time mayor Ramiz Jaraisi (Hadash, Christian) finally (for the first election in autumn see here) lost his position to his former deputy 'Ali Salam (formerly with Hadash, Muslim) after a recall election had been ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court. While some might simply argue, that after 20 years in office voters are just tired of Jaraisi, others believe the loss of the mayoralty in the so called "red city" indicates a downfall of the Communist dominated Hadash, once Israel's most important Arab party:

Nazareth election beginning of end for Israel's Communist Party
by Daoud Kuttab, Al-Monitor
The loss of the Nazareth mayoralty in the March 11 recall elections marked the beginning of the end of the Israeli Communist Party in Israel. Ramez Jaraisi, the mayor for nearly four decades, lost to Ali Salam, who won more than 61% of the city’s votes. 
Israeli Communist leaders in Nazareth accepted defeat and issued a statement six days later to congratulate the new winners, stating that they accepted the will of the people of Nazareth. They also promised to search hard for the reasons for their political setback. Jaraisi gained almost the same number of votes, 16,000, while his opponent (who was his deputy for years) won over the votes that went to other groups that competed in the first round against Jaraisi. 
While the election campaign turned sectarian in the early stages of the election campaign, that Salam's "Our Nazareth" list was endorsed by well-known Christian leaders and clergy reduced much of the tensions. Many feel that the religious-sectarian issue was manufactured, rather than a real reflection of any Christian-Muslim tensions on the ground.
The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, a coalition led by the Israeli Communist Party, has been the major political force for Palestinian citizens of Israel since it was created in this form in 1977. The Jabha as it is called in Arabic, or Hadash in Hebrew, has maintained an Arab-Jewish partnership despite the vast majority of its members and voters being Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. Israeli Communists, through different coalitions, have maintained three or four members of the 120-member Israeli Knesset since the establishment of Israel.
Losing a powerful and important base such as the largest Palestinian city in Israel is a major political loss for the movement which has to figure out how it will deal with the new Israeli law that has raised the threshold of entering the Knesset to 3.25% — translated to roughly four seats. Hadash has currently four members in the Knesset, three Arabs and one Jew, but it is unclear whether the Democratic Front can enter the Knesset in the next elections without finding a coalition partner. Existing Arab parties in Israel are unlikely to make a coalition with an Arab-Jewish party, thus putting the Israeli Communist Party in a most intricate position. They can risk going alone and not entering the Knesset for the first time since 1948, or they will have to further alienate their smaller Jewish partners who have not been able to muster many votes in previous elections
While Israeli Communists have largely toned down their Marxist ideology, they have been successful in representing a moderate voice for peace despite the polarization that has turned Israel’s Arab citizens to become much more supportive of Palestinian nationalism as a result of the continuation of Israel’s occupation. Since their establishment, Israeli Communists have maintained a two-tier political approach as the name of their coalition represents. They have been in favor of the two-state solution and fierce fighters for equality for the Arab minority in Israel and workers’ rights.
For Palestinian citizens of Israel, Hadash was for a long time the sole political party allowed to work in the public sphere. Political figures that rose to prominence through the Israeli Communist Party include ideologue Tawfiq Toubi, poet and former Nazareth mayor Tawfiq Ziad and novelist Emile Habibi.
In recent years, however, the Democratic Front has propelled new figures like Mohammad Baraka and Jamal Zahalka. Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza know these new members of Knesset and appeal to them to intervene in solving day-to-day problems with the occupation. But while they are often effective in solving individual problems, they have not succeeded much in changing the trajectory of the Israeli occupation and settlement policy that has received legitimization in Israel’s top representative body. This failure has led many, especially among Islamists in Israel, to question the wisdom of being part of the Israeli electoral system and fighting for the few seats that are available to the Arab minority.
The loss of elections in Nazareth put an end to decades of control by Communists and their supporters. After the Nazareth elections, Israeli member of Knesset from the Islamic Movement Ibrahim Sarsour issued a statement calling on the losing party to learn the lessons for the national good of Palestinian citizens in Israel.
It can be argued that change is necessary and that being in power for so long tends to reduce effectiveness. But what happened in Nazareth last week will not stay in Galilee. It will have a profound effect on the Israeli Communist Party and on the Hadash coalition throughout post-1948 Israel. The big question will be whether they will learn the lessons of this reduced public support and act accordingly, or keep their heads in the sand and blame all except themselves for the status that they find themselves in.
Even more than during the first campaign in autumn, the campaign for the recall election had sectarian undertones. One might remember, that the city witnessed Muslim-Christian tensions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Battle for Nazareth mayor a loser for Christian-Muslim relations
by Daniel Ben Simon, Al-Monitor
Until recently, Jaraisi and Salam had been good friends. They tied their fate together and symbolized Muslim-Christian fraternity in the Arab sector’s largest city. Of the city’s 80,000 residents, 65% are Muslim and 35% Christian. Similar percentages were registered in 1948, but in reverse; then, the Christians held the large majority. The political alliance between the two friends greatly shaped the sociopolitical texture of the two populations and engendered stability that served the city well. Today, on the heels of the electoral controversy, the two friends do not talk to one another. Suddenly, swords have been unsheathed and battle cries sounded that threaten to shatter the city’s tranquility.
“The situation in the city is very tense,” Fadoul Mazawi, owner of a large advertising agency in Nazareth, told Al-Monitor. “The city is paralyzed, and I am afraid of the radical statements we hear from both sides. This situation is very inflammable and likely to blow up after the final results are made public.” National Arab politics also waits tensely on the sidelines. If Jaraisi loses, his defeat will be viewed as symbol of the Arab Israeli Hadash Party’s weakening on the national level. Hadash has ruled in Nazareth for 30 years without exception. “Defeat in the city will be perceived as a great blow in the Arab sector,” added Mazawi. “As far as they are concerned, this is a battle of a survival.”
Like others in the city, Mazawi, a Christian, is concerned that the political struggle could ignite ethnic fires. “If the court renders its final decision in favor of Jaraisi, it will be problematic because it will light a fire between Muslims and Christians. The Muslims will argue that the elections were stolen from them.”
It is an open secret that the mysterious envelope in which Jaraisi received his additional votes contained the ballots cast by the city’s soldiers. Over many years, Jaraisi preached high and low against enlistment of Arabs into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Thus, Jaraisi’s antagonists feel it hypocritical that the man who preached against Arab enlistment, should earn his fifth term by virtue of Christian soldiers' ballots. “There are 30 ballots cast by soldiers from Nazareth, ballots that have not been counted and can tip the scales,” argued Jaraisi in his appeal to the court.
“Let’s recall a few long-forgotten events,” writes Shai Friedman in his blog on Nazareth. “There is a war in Nazareth against youths who enlist in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. Nazareth’s mayor was a key player in this war. He participated, together with fellow party members from the Knesset, against ‘enlistment in the Zionist army.’ A Druze youth who received a call-up order tore it up to the sound of the cheering crowd. Jaraisi and the members of his party clapped their hands.”
Within this uncompromising battle between two people who had once been good friends stands the city of Nazareth, hostage to ignoble political storm winds that refuse to die down.
Since one could argue that the Israeli government has tried to weaken Hadash before (e.g. in Nazareth during the Crisis around the year 2000), the question about the involvement of the government and state institutions in the recall election arises.

The Shin Bet in our beds 
by Oudeh Basharat, Haaretz
With no connection to the election results in Nazareth, which Ali Salam won by a decisive majority in the second round, the disturbing question is: Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, through the head of the Shin Bet security service and the attorney general, try to influence the outcome of that election? That is what Yael Gvirtz’s article in Yedioth Ahronoth on March 10 would indicate.
Gvirtz writes that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and their partners had an interest in Salam winning the election and that “to prepare the election, the head of the Shin Bet and the attorney general were mobilized as well ... [The latter] sent, at the request of those who employed him, an urgent letter to the Supreme Court demanding a repeat hearing ‘due to allegations of forgeries’ − even though claims of forgery never came up in court during the appeal of the election results, nor was a complaint lodged with the police.”
If this had happened in Tel Aviv there would have been an uproar of inestimable force, and it is possible that everyone involved, including the prime minister, would have been thrown out of office. But the Arabs are a different story. Nobody gets excited over the long romance that has been going on between them and the Shin Bet.
by Leena Dallasheh, MERIP

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