First Published: Israel & Palestine Monthly Review, #58, April 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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MIA Introduction: The following is an excerpt from an article about the various electoral lists participating in the 1977 Israeli national elections.
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On 17 March an agreement was initialed for the constitution of a DEMOCRATIC FRONT FOR PEACE AND EQUALITY (“Hadash”, or “New”). This new formation includes the REKAKH Communist Party which now leaves behind this name; an independent number of Mayors and Municipal Counsellors of Arab municipalities inside Israel; several Jewish and Arab personalities; and a strong contingent from the Black Panthers, led by Kokhavi Shemesh and Charlie Bitton. The agreement specifies that the third man elected by the NEW list will be the Panthers’ representative Bitton. As REKAKH already has four Knesset Members, and it is estimated that it might get at least fifty per cent more votes than in the past, this gives the Black Panthers’ split under Kokhavi and Bitton a safe Knesset Seat.
The Arab Municipalities are represented by Hanna Moyas, Chairman of the National Committee of Arab Municipalities, and by Gamal Tarabiyeh, Mayor of Sakhnin who used to be a MAPAI and LABOR member. Also supporting the NEW list are SHASSI, the small non-Zionist socialist group issued from the now defunct SIAKH; THE LEFT FRONT – a Zionist, but pro-Communist grouplet; and AKI – a Communist split, which left the Communist MAKI party when it split in 1965. Among other non-Communist personalities joining NEW one must mention Bassam Hattib, a member of the Druze Independent Committee, Issam Makol, secretary general of the Arab Students’ Committee, and Professor Daniel Amit, who is a member of both the Israeli Council for Israel-Palestine Peace and of the less pro-American Council For A Just Peace With The Arab States. Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, known for its leftist views, has sent its member Tzakhi Mitzmakher, and the Arab village of Pekiin its own Nairn Makul. (YEDIOTH, 9 March).
This specific, non-Zionist front was created after REKAKH’s call for a general front of all Zionist and non-Zionist groups (l&P 56/57) remained unheeded by the Zionist Doves. REKAKH had suggested such a front should call for unilateral withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, as against the Zionist Doves call for withdrawal in context of a contractual peace agreement between Israel and the Arabs, as well as call for social and ethnic justice.
As a matter of fact, only non-Zionist or anti-Zionist elements heeded REKAKH’s call, and thus the NEW front was created. It marshals at least enough votes for six, perhaps enough for as many as eight Knesset seats. If it reaches this number of Knesset seats, it will be the first time since the creation of the State of Israel that the non-Zionist left, both Arab and Jewish, is represented according to a considerable fraction of its real numerical strength among the country’s population. No less important, it will speak out loudly in Parliament, give those Arabs who are not Communist but still anti-Zionists a voice of their own, and generally loosen the stranglehold of the automatic Zionist majority over dissenting voices. The Black Panthers, too, will be assured of at least a voice – perhaps more.
In point of fact, the Black Panthers split (perhaps permanently, perhaps temporarily) over the strategy needed for ensuring their Knesset presence, after they had been defeated in the 1973, post-war elections. Shemesh and Bitton, representing the Left of the Panthers, argued they should join the NEW front, ensured them of getting at least one sure seat. They did this, incidentally, after meetings held at the home of Shemesh, with Arik Sharon and his SHLOMTZION movement’s representatives.
The decision to join NEW was approved by a majority of 17 out of 24 secretariat members who met. Marciano, the “Zionist Socialist” Panther, who joined MOKED, contested this meeting as did Shalom Cohen, Secretary-General of the Movement; both said that members of the Secretariat who would have voted otherwise were not invited. In any case, the Panthers’ electorate is now split in three camps; the smallest number of Oriental Jews who followed the Panthers will probably go with the SHELI front of MOKED-Avneri-Eliav; a still small number will go with the NEW, anti-Zionist front; while a somewhat bigger number of Oriental Jews will follow, most probably, Shalom Cohen’s new KHOFESH (“Freedom”) Front of Workers and Slum Dwellers. KHOFESH is strongly ethnic, but also strongly proletarian-oriented. There is also a possibility that the majority of the Panthers’ electorate, disappointed in the splits and in their leadership having opted for social and political rather than ethnic issues, will vote for other lists.
On the other hand, whichever Panthers may get elected to the Knesset, they will go for the first time, all of them, on a class-basis which is outspoken in its social implications. Moreover, it is also true that all three Panthers’ fractions contending for Knesset seats (inside NEW, in SHELI and through KHOFESH) are committed to the Left – and to some kind of agreement with the Palestinians, although KHOFESH minimizes this side of its platform so as not to create enmity in predominantly nationalistic slums.
In this context one must remind the reader that the Panthers adopted, two years ago, a platform calling for the establishment of a Palestinian, independent state.