Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance made up by a socialist Arab-Jewish party and an exclusively Arab one, held its Hebrew-language campaign launch at a Tel Aviv bar Wednesday evening, making an effort to reach out to Jewish voters ahead of the national elections on April 9.
Some 125 people, young and old, most of whom appeared to be Hadash supporters, turned out to the watering hole adjacent to the city’s bustling Rothschild Boulevard and largely filled its outdoor patio section.
At the start of the event, Hadash leader Ayman Odeh and Ta’al chairman Ahmad Tibi schmoozed with supporters and journalists, while Arab and Jewish Hadash activists handed out T-shirts with “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” written on them and asked attendees whether they would like to join their party.
Odeh and Tibi both told reporters they believe Hadash-Ta’al will win over more Jewish voters than the Joint List — the coalition of four Arab-majority parities that recently split into Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-The United Arab List (UAL) — did in 2015.
“We are the two most universal movements,” Odeh said. “In our alliance, we can reach a much wider part of the Jewish public than the Joint List did.”
As more people arrived at the event, Odeh, Tibi and other Hadash-Ta’al leaders took to a small stage decorated with campaign posters to deliver short speeches.
In his remarks, Odeh contended that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, the leaders of the Blue and White centrist alliance, were “sucking up” to the right instead of reaching out to his own electoral base.
Gantz recently implied strongly that his party does not intend to reach out to Arab-majority parties in its efforts to form a government. Addressing a crowd of some 500 people in the southern city of Beersheba on Monday, the Blue and White leader, who is a retired IDF chief of staff, said he was open to sitting in a coalition with “anyone Jewish and Zionist.”
Still, while Hadash-Ta’al almost certainly would not join any Gantz-led coalition, it could recommend the Blue and White leader to President Reuven Rivlin to become Israel’s next prime minister.
But if Gantz moves to form a unity government with Likud, Hadash-Ta’al most likely would not recommend him to Rivlin.
In the days following the elections, every party that wins seats in the Knesset will inform Rivlin whom it recommends as prime minister. Thereafter, Rivlin most likely will grant the person recommended by the most MKs the opportunity to form a coalition.
In his speech, Tibi, who seemed to be one of a small handful of Ta’al members at the gathering, also took aim at Gantz.
“What is frightening about saying ‘Palestinian state,’ Mr. Gantz? Bibi said that. He lied, but he said it,” Tibi said, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.
Since officially making a foray into national politics in December, Gantz has refrained from specifically referring to the two-state solution or a Palestinian state.
However, the retired general has recently indicated that he hopes to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his maiden political speech in late January, he said a government under his leadership would “strive for peace.” Moreover, earlier this week in a conversation with European Union ambassadors, he remarked that Israelis and Palestinians “are here to stay” and that a settlement between them needs to be found, a participant in the meeting told The Times of Israel.
Tibi also rebuked Netanyahu and his Likud faction for repeatedly saying the elections constitute a choice between “Bibi or Tibi,” implying that having Arab parties propping up the government or serving in it would not bode well for Israel.
“This slogan… is an attempt to delegitimize Arab parties and the Arab public. It is an effort to dehumanize the Arab public as if there are second- and third-class voters,” he said. “On election day, every citizen has the right to vote. The day before and after elections, there’s a huge gap between Arabs and Jews. Only on this day is there equality in terms of the right to vote and influence. No one will take this right away from us.”
On Thursday, Hadash-Ta’al released an image poking fun at Netanyahu’s controversial video on election day 2015 in which he warned that Arab voters were “flocking to the polls” in “droves,” with the help of buses funded by “left-wing NGOs.”
In the picture, Tibi and Odeh can be seen in front of buses in the faction’s colors of red and yellow, with the slogan “Flocking to the polls.”
During Wednesday’s campaign launch, Ofer Kassif, the sole Jewish candidate on the Hadash-Ta’al slate, quoted the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry focused heavily on the Palestinian issue.
“Today is the birthday of the poet Mahmoud Darwish. Exactly 78 years ago today, the Palestinian national poet was born. One of the things he wrote was ‘think about your fellow man.’ Who thinks more about its fellow man than the Hadash-Ta’al list?” Kassif, a professor of political science, said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Kassif appeared before the Supreme Court, which convened to debate the Central Elections Committee’s decision last week to disqualify him from running for Knesset over past controversial statements, including one in which he called Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “neo-Nazi scum.”
The Supreme Court is expected to imminently issue a decision on whether to throw out or uphold the Central Elections Committee’s decision. Hassan Jabareen, Kassif’s attorney, has argued his client’s controversial comments were metaphors.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Kassif also lashed out at Netanyahu, calling him “an arch-racist” and “today’s leading Kahanist.”
“He isn’t only bringing the Kahanists into the Knesset on a red carpet. He is a Kahanist,” he said, arguing that Netanyahu has systematically employed anti-Arab rhetoric for years.
Netanyahu recently orchestrated a merger deal between the Jewish Home party and the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction, significantly raising the chances that both parties will win seats in the Knesset.
Otzma Yehudit leaders have described themselves as proud disciples of the late ultra-nationalist Meir Kahane, who supported racist and anti-Arab positions.
Following the speeches, the Hadash-Ta’al leaders and attendees mingled with the attendees and chatted.
Tamar, 29 and a translator, said she intends to vote for Hadash-Ta’al because she “believes in equality between Arabs and Jews.”
Asked why she would not support Meretz, another left-wing party that says it backs equality between Arabs and Jews, Tamar, who declined to reveal her last name, said she did not want to affiliate with a Zionist party and preferred Hadash-Ta’al’s platform on social issues.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.