By Barbie Goldstein
Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and leader of the political party Ra’am, Dr. Mansour Abbas made his first appearance to an American audience in a webinar sponsored by the Washington Institute on February 10th, 2022. David Makovsky, the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow from The Washington Institute, and Robert Satloff, The Washington Institute’s Executive Director, interviewed Dr. Mansour Abbas about topics relating to political, social, and economical spheres in Israel. Dr. Abbas first spoke about his own background of growing up in a diverse village where Muslims were a minority, Druze were the majority, and he was surrounded by pockets of Jewish villages. He attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is currently attending a university in Haifa for a Master’s in Political Science. His motive for achieving peace and future success stems from his Muslim faith and his holistic outlook on different communities in Israel. While some of his points may have been slightly misunderstood because of translation, Dr. Abbas spoke about his mission to achieve peace and partners to improve Israeli society for all its members.
Dr. Abbas cemented his values in his faith. He said that Islam has taught him to connect with other people for the betterment of humanity. He noted that his religion gives him the strength to have an optimistic outlook on future Israeli society. Dr. Abbas mentioned the importance of understanding intersectional identities and how Israel was born as a Jewish state, but it is up to its citizens to define what type of Judaism defines Israel (humanistic, exclusive, etc). On his own party, Ra’am, he explicitly stated that it is impossible to achieve peace and prosperity if there is no expectation for compromises, genuine dialogue, and partnership. Dr. Abbas went further to emphasize that partnerships will lead to addressing contention within Israeli civil society. These partnerships between members, who may share disagreements, will create incentives for progress. The example he gave to demonstrate his point was the controversial citizenship law, which bars Palestinian spouses from acquiring a permit to live with their spouse who is in Israel, which affects at least 10,000 families.
Dr. Abbas continued discussing the importance of tolerance of faith when mentioning how Israel’s past is a point of contention between various communities. He announced that people could not run back to the past and heal all the wounds stemming from it. Instead, communities must partner under four points in Abbas’s vision for moving forward: peace, security, partnership, and patience. This ties into all of the Abrahamic religions, he commented, which means that stability and a successful future are everyone’s priorities and should not be divided based on religion. Overall, his proudest achievement so far has been bringing more money in local Arab communities through increasing the budgets for Arab education, industries such as Arab tech-led companies, and Arab education. Dr. Abbas pointed out how this benefits all Israeli communities––Jewish and non-Jewish—as a whole. Investing in Arab communities’ futures will lead to a brighter future for the entire state and will also lead to achieving peace.
Overall, I really enjoyed this lecture hosted by the Washington Institute. I do not follow Israeli politics closely, so I appreciated the insight from Dr. Abbas on Israeli society. What I most appreciated, however, was his insight into how to move the country forward and his opinions on Amnesty International calling Israel an apartheid state and the riots back in May of 2021. Coming from a medical background as a dentist, Dr. Abbas highlighted the importance of language and specificity when discussing Israeli society. He rejects Amnesty’s claim of Israel as apartheid because Arabs can participate in government, such as himself. Moreover, he also noted that Israel cannot be judged from a general perspective because of all its complexities. Instead, he views Israel objectively, validating that there is discrimination in different fields of Israeli society. In essence, he rejects generalization but concedes to specific cases which he promotes as places to instigate partnerships to create long-lasting change. In addition, he views the riots that occurred in May 2021 as a wake-up call for this partnership to cement as soon as possible. Dr. Abbas expressed that Israel is a place in which all current communities will continue to live, thus they must thrive for the sake of each other.
Dr. Mansour Abbas emphasized how his mandate is to prioritize Israeli civil society as a place in which basic values exist: peace, patience, and acceptance. The issues within Israel are extremely complex and many members of the Knesset focus on the past. However, the way forward is to move on from the past to better Israel’s future with whatever identity its citizens choose to identify as. While he understands that Israelis are suspicious of his motives because of his identity, Dr. Mansour Abbas said that the only way forward is mutual trust and to give a partnership a genuine chance to develop. I believe every word he said and every sentiment he expressed during his event rings true. Genuine commitment to Israel’s successful future relies on cooperation from all of Israel’s citizens.