Sole Jewish lawmaker on Arab list to retire from Knesset

Communist activist and progressive attorney Dov Khenin says he will ‘join the grassroots and try to change country’s direction from the bottom up’

File: Joint Arab List MK Dov Khenin in the Knesset. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Joint Arab List MK Dov Khenin in the Knesset. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Dov Khenin, one of the most prolific and progressive of Israel’s lawmakers, announced his retirement from the Knesset ahead of the April 9 elections.

A member of the once-communist Hadash list, Khenin was the sole Jewish lawmaker on the Joint List slate.

“I’m not abandoning political life,” he said in a Knesset press conference on Tuesday morning announcing his decision. “But I want to help bring change. The ship is sailing at top speed in the wrong direction, and the direction can’t be changed from the bow, from the Knesset.”

He added: “I want to join the grassroots and try to change the [country’s] direction from the bottom up.”

He vowed to work to help Hadash and the Joint List in the coming elections, and to “support any move toward cooperation” among left-wing factions “against the right.”

Hadash Knesset members (from left) Afu Agbaria, Dov Khenin, Mohammad Barakeh and Hana Sweid in front of the Done of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, November 27, 2013. (Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Khenin, 60, has spent decades as a political activist, attorney and professor of political science.

Born to communist activist parents — his father David was one of the early leaders of the Israel Communist Party — Khenin refused to be deployed to the West Bank during his military service in the late 1970s.

He served as chair of an umbrella organization of Israeli environmental groups from 2002.

Once he entered the Knesset as a Hadash MK in 2006, he became one of the most prolific authors of legislation for the next four Knessets. His efforts focused on welfare and social issues, from expanding protection for juvenile criminals to helping extend paid maternity leave to 14 weeks, and on environmental causes.

He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Tel Aviv in 2008 as head of the Ir Lekulanu, or “City for Us All,” movement that sought to reform the municipality. He lost to incumbent mayor Ron Huldai 51 percent to 34%, but his movement’s faction on the city council, at five seats, was equal to that of Huldai’s Tel Aviv Ahat, “One Tel Aviv.”

Left to right, MK Yael Cohen Paran, MK Dov Khenin, Ori Shavit protesting live animal imports, January 28, 2017, (Or Keren)

The Labor party’s most prominent self-described socialist lawmaker, former party leader MK Shelly Yachimovich, praised Khenin on Tuesday and called his retirement “a massive loss for the Knesset and the public.”

She described Khenin as a “gifted, top-tier lawmaker, an ideological man who saw in politics — something not to be taken for granted these days — a place to realize his worldview, many parts of which I agree with.”

Observers expect Khenin to be replaced on the Hadash Knesset slate, part of the broader Joint List, by another Jew. Only once, after the 2003 elections, has Hadash’s faction failed to include a Jewish member.

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