Israel celebrates its democracy's center

The first anniversary of a diverse governing coalition shows that the value of equality can be put into practice.

Leader of the United Arab List Mansour Abbas speaks during a Knesset session in Jerusalem June 13, 2021.

In its historic role as a template for democracy for the Middle East, Israel celebrated a milestone Monday. Over the past year, it has been governed by a once-unimaginable constellation of parties. The eight-party partnership includes not only right- and left-wing Jewish parties but also the first Arab party to be an active member of a ruling coalition.

This melding of political identities for a greater cause – democracy as an equalizer in a diverse society – has not always been easy. Israeli politics are famously raucous. Threatened defections of a few of the coalition’s members almost brought it down. But by hitting the one-year mark, this political “experiment” now shows how a democracy can work.

“The point is to listen to each other, hear different perspectives and sometimes find compromises,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Agence France-Presse.

The coalition’s steadfast inclusion of the party known as the United Arab List – representing one-fifth of Israeli citizens who are Arab – has set a precedent in putting the value of equality into practice. An Israeli government is finally focused on accommodating the interests of its poorest and most neglected ethnic minority, one that has suffered discrimination in part for not being Jewish.

“The discourse now is very respectful and there is less talk and more action, with good intentions,” Dr. Nasreen Haddad Haj-Yahya, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The Media Line news agency.

A more significant precedent is that Israel is demonstrating that a democracy can survive by finding a political center, one that provides both stability and a measure of results for many. For Israeli Arabs, two results have been fewer murders in their community over the past year and more government spending targeted at their local interests.

“Every country, let alone Israel, is formed from big contradictions: state vs religion, Judaism vs democracy, free market vs compassion, and security vs civil rights,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told The Jerusalem Post. “The business of the government is to balance those. This is why we need the center ... to rule and arrange everything for people to be able to live.”

For Israel, that center has meant the emergence of a shared civic identity between Arabs and Jews as well as among Jews. After a remarkable year of trying, the coalition has shown what is possible.

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