NAZARETH, Israel — When election results confirmed that an Arab alliance had emerged as the third largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, its leader Ayman Odeh reached for the Old Testament, tweeting in Hebrew from Psalm 118 that the stone which was rejected had become the cornerstone.
His message: The Arab community, long shunted to the margins of Israeli society, is going to use its newfound influence to set the country on a more equitable path.
The results left the two biggest parties deadlocked, but marked a victory for the Arab bloc and put Odeh in a strong position to become the first Arab opposition leader, an official role that would allow him to receive high-level security briefings and meet visiting heads of state. Outraged at what they see as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s racist policies and incitement, most of the bloc recommended his opponent, former army chief Benny Gantz, as prime minister, the first time Arab parties have backed an Israeli candidate since 1992.
The potential for newfound influence has forced Arab citizens to confront a dilemma going back to Israel’s founding: Working within the system might secure social gains for the marginalized community, but risks legitimizing a state that many feel relegates them to second-class status and oppresses their Palestinian brethren in the occupied territories.
The Joint List of Arab parties has vowed to use its political influence to address day-to-day struggles while remaining outside any government. No Arab party has ever sat in an Israeli government, and none of Israel’s main parties have invited them to do so.