Ra’am’s guiding charter backs Palestinian right of return, calls Zionism racist
While Mansour Abbas is being wooed amid post-election deadlock, the Southern Islamic Movement, of which his party is the political wing, takes positions most Jewish Israelis abhor
The charter that guides Ra’am, the Islamist party being wooed by the mainstream parties competing to form Israel’s next government, urges a right of return for Palestinian refugees, says “there can be no allegiance” to Israel, and deems Zionism a “racist, occupying project,” according to a current version of the document provided to The Times of Israel by a senior figure in Ra’am.
Ra’am is the political wing of the Southern Islamic Movement, an organization inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. Updated in 2018 and reviewed at a 2019 conference in Nazareth which was reportedly chaired by Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, the Southern Islamic Movement’s charter takes positions considered anathema by most Jewish Israelis.
“The State of Israel was born of the racist, occupying Zionist project; iniquitous Western and British imperialism; and the debasement and feebleness of the Arab and Islamic [nations]. We do not absolve ourselves, the Palestinian people, of our responsibility and our failure to confront this project,” the charter says.
It calls for the so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees who left or were expelled in 1948, widely seen as a red line by most Zionist Israelis, who view an influx of potentially millions of Palestinians to Israel as spelling the demographic end of the Jewish state.
The 80-page charter, which covers all aspects of the movement’s positions and activities, from its charity work to its religious worldview, embraces a two-state solution as a possible framework, declaring that a Palestinian state ought to be established “alongside Israel” in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. But it notes that a right of return for Palestinians must be part of that kind of accommodation.
Alternatively, it advocates a single, binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
“Remove your hands from the Palestinian people so they might establish their own free and independent state, next to Israel, and that the expelled and displaced might return to their homeland and their houses and their land. Or, accept one state from the river to the sea, in which the two peoples may live under the heavens in freedom and equality and safety and peace,” the charter states in this context.
Elsewhere, the charter states: “We all are [united as] one hand until the occupation ends and a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and in noble Jerusalem; when the expelled and displaced return to their homes and to their homeland.”
Ra’am party officials have in recent months avoided discussing how their movement views controversial final-status issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians. Abbas has instead focused on the needs of Israel’s Arab community, and last week, in a primetime speech, issued a call for Arab-Jewish cooperation and equality. Islamic Movement parliamentarians campaigned in Arab towns and cities ahead of the March 23 elections on improving quality of life for Arab Israelis.
“We have stances [on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], but now is not the time,” Ra’am MK Walid Taha told The Times of Israel on Saturday.
Asked about the stance of the Southern Islamic Movement and Ra’am on the right of return, Taha said that it would be “poor timing” to discuss the matter now.
The Islamic Movement signed off on this charter in 2018. In early 2019, the document was reviewed by senior party officials with prominent academics in Nazareth. According to Arab Israeli news site Arab48, Mansour Abbas — who was already the Ra’am party leader — chaired the meeting.
The Islamic Movement’s charter compares the status quo in Israel and the territories to the short-lived Crusader kingdoms built by European invaders in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. However, it does not directly call for Israel’s destruction, instead calling on Israel to pursue a two-state solution before it is too late.
“You have a warning in the Frank apostates [the Crusaders] who forcefully ravished the land for nearly two centuries, until they were defeated by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi and his soldiers,” per the charter.
Israel’s Islamic Movement was founded by Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish — a complex, contradictory figure. While he initially supported spreading Islam through violence — even serving two years in prison for a series of ideologically motivated assaults — Darwish eventually embraced democracy and peaceful change through da’wa, Islamic proselytization.
The movement eventually spread widely through Arab cities and towns — especially in southern Israel — operating kindergartens, colleges, health clinics, mosques and even a sports league.
In the 1990s, the Islamic Movement split between those who supported and those who opposed the Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The more radical northern branch — headed by former Darwish protégé Raed Salah — opposed the move. But Darwish, who led the southern branch, embraced it, clearing the way for the creation of an Islamist party, Ra’am, that would seek to work within the political framework of the Knesset.
Ra’am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark for a Knesset majority, crowning the next premier. But some right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.
In a historic primetime address to the country last Thursday — carried live on every major television channel in Israel — Abbas said his party sought to “respect every person for his humanity” and emphasized the common destiny of Arabs and Jews in the State of Israel.
“If the road in Wadi Ara is problematic, it won’t distinguish between Arab and Jewish passersby,” Abbas said. “If there’s a bed lacking in Soroka Hospital, it can harm both those in Beersheba and in Rahat.”
Many observers noted that Abbas was careful to omit overt mentions of the Palestinian cause from his address. He spoke of himself as “a man of the Islamic Movement, a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the State of Israel,” choosing not to refer to himself as a Palestinian. The Ra’am party chief did note, however, that Arab Israelis had been preventing from “collective realization,” in a possible nod to national rights.
Abbas also acknowledged in his speech the gulf that separated him from the Jewish Israeli public, but he maintained that the urgency of Jewish-Arab cooperation trumped disagreements on other burning questions.
“Now is the time to understand one another, each other’s narrative,” Abbas said. “We do not have to agree on everything, and we will of course disagree on much. But we must give us and our children the opportunity, the right, to understand one another.”
Supporters called Abbas’s speech a courageous commitment to pragmatism, to putting seeming irresolvable differences aside in favor of achieving tangible gains for Arab Israelis.
The Islamic Movement’s 2018 charter carries some of the same messaging, saying that the “nonviolent civil… advancement in which we are engaged” would work to benefit both Jews and Arabs.
“[This] aims to strengthen the values of justice and freedom and dignity for all people, Jews and Arabs, and aims to remove oppression and prejudice and insult to the oppressed in the world,” the charter says.
But the movement’s foundational document also includes harsher rhetoric about the relationship between what it refers to as the “Palestinian people inside Israel” and the Israeli state.
“There can be no allegiance to [Israel], nor any identification with its Zionist, racist, occupier thought, nor any acceptance of any of the various forms of ‘Israelification,’ which would shed us of our identity and particularity and rights,” the charter says.
“Our political participation, on all its levels, from local government to the legislative authority in parliament [i.e., the Knesset], and in official civil authorities, is but an attempt to defend our rights and the interests of our Arab Palestinian community inside [Israel], and to aid our Palestinian cause, and to clash with the proposals and policies and programs of the Zionist project from within the heart of the state institutions,” the charter also notes.
“It is, at the very least, a word of truth before a tyrannical despot,” the charter concludes, a reference to a famous saying attributed to Islam’s prophet, Mohammad.
The Islamic Movement indicates in the charter that advancing a Palestinian state is not the first priority of the movement. The main goals relate to the Palestinian community inside Israel.
“Our most important goal with regard to the State of Israel, regarding Palestinian Arab society, is to maintain our presence in our homeland, to preserve our identity, and the Arab, Islamic, and Christian identities of our country, and to enable our community to achieve its rights in civil, national and religious spheres, and in the sphere of daily life,” the charter says.