Another missed opportunity

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (Aug. 2, 2018) – Israel will hold municipal elections next month. Who will run Israel’s largest city, Jerusalem, with a population of some 860,000? The present mayor isn’t standing again, because he’s said to have his eyes on national politics. There’s a host of candidates ready to replace him. Though the number will decrease as we come closer to election date, there’ll still be too many left.

Whoever becomes mayor will have to yield to many of the demands of the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites of whom there’s about quarter-of-a-million, almost a third of the total population. But it could be different if the Arabs in Jerusalem were to vote. There’re some 360,000 of them – over 100,000 more than the ultra-Orthodox! – living mainly in the east of the city.

But very few Arabs are likely to vote because the Palestinian Authority doesn’t want them, nay doesn’t allow them, to vote lest this will be seen as accepting the reality of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. The Muslim religious leaders are particularly vociferous. They recently issued a fatwa, a religious decree, which reads in part: “Participation in the municipal election, either by voting or presenting candidacy, is religiously forbidden. The disadvantages of participating in the election are bigger and greater than any other gained interests.”

Had their leaders allowed Arab Jerusalemites to vote, their conditions would vastly improve because of the influence they’d have over the affairs of the municipality

Had their leaders allowed Arab Jerusalemites to vote, their conditions would vastly improve because of the influence they’d have over the affairs of the municipality. By all accounts, as things stand now, Arabs at the ballot boxes may be singled out for sanctions and worse.

However, Ramadan Dabash, an Arab living in the city, has decided to defy the objectors and to head an Arab list. It’s considered to be a very brave act with untold consequences for his life. He says that his objectives aren’t political but only to gain better conditions for his people. The fact that many lay and religious Arab leaders may consider him a traitor is tragic.

The Gatestone Institute and one of its lead writers, Bassam Tawil, are notoriously critical of the present Palestinian leadership. I usually refrain from citing them, but I believe that in this case their comments deserve our attention. Their piece on the subject reads in part:

Palestinian leaders do not want to see any improvement in the lives of the Arabs in Jerusalem so that they can continue to incite against Israel and accuse it of discriminating against its Arab population.

Palestinian leaders and their religious clerics do not want to see Arabs live a comfortable life under Israel. They are afraid that the world would see that Arabs can have a good life under Israeli sovereignty.

They are also afraid that Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip will start envying the Arabs living in Israel – and then may demand from their leaders similar conditions.

This is another example of the truth of the dictum by the late Abba Eban – many of whose pithy formulations have remained relevant to this day – that Arab leaders in Israel never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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