The bravest politician in Israel

Larry Derfner writes: Sitting in a barren, slightly mildewy campaign office in this Arab village, I asked Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, what it was like being the country’s most hated politician. “It doesn’t bother me at all,” she said.

It’s easy to believe. Zoabi’s style is to head for the eye of the Arab-Jewish political storm — the result being that while she is the Jewish majority’s most hated politician, she may well be the Arab minority’s most beloved.

Zoabi is running for reelection in Israel’s Jan. 22 parliamentary election, but it was a struggle to even reach this point. Right-wing Knesset members moved to have her disqualified, saying she had “undermined the state of Israel” and “openly incited” against the government. Only a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court in late December overturned the ban. A poll published in Haaretz indicated that her legal victory stood to gain her small, virtually all-Arab party an additional Knesset seat.

Zoabi, 43, petite and pretty in black jacket, slacks, and pointed heels — a modern, single woman in a conservative, patriarchal Arab subculture — had just exhorted some 50 local residents to “use all the democratic tools at our disposal to carry on the struggle.” She urged them not to be what she derided as “good Arabs,” those who “thank Israel every day for not expelling them in 1948, who think they are not equal to Jewish citizens.”

She had held the audience’s attention for nearly two hours. In the front row sat middle-aged Arab women in Islamic headscarves next to high school girls in jeans. Afterward, amid the stream of well-wishers, the girls came up and exchanged phone numbers with her. “She’s the only Arab woman who speaks for us, who gives us the courage to stand up to the racism,” said one. [Continue reading…]

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