Today, parliamentary elections are held in Israel. One of the candidates is the Palestinian women and peace activist Nabila Espanioly. She is determined to stand up for women’s, children’s, Palestinian’s and minorities rights, even though the political climate in Israel is increasingly toughening.
The general elections on January 22 take place in a country more and more dominated by ultra nationalistic and religious forces. During the last years, the democratic space for maneuver has shrunk, e.g. through laws restricting human rights organizations’ possibilities to receive financial support from foreign countries, or laws forbidding to advocate for a boycott of Israel or restricting public support for activities denying that Israel is a ”Jewish and democratic state”. This makes work difficult for mainly women’s rights activist, peace activists and –parties and left wing organizations. ”The political climate in Israel is very difficult and challenging. All Gallup polls indicate a right wing majority in the election, the question is how strong they will be”, says Nabila Espanioly.
Nabila Espanioly is the founder and leader of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization Al Tufula in Nazareth. Now she is running as no. five for Hadash, a party for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. This is her first serious attempt to win a seat in parliament, but Nabila Espanioly is by no means a newcomer in politics. The questions she wants to drive in parliament are the same she has been fighting for in the last forty years: peace in the region, poverty reduction, unrecognized villages and women’s, children’s and Palestinian’s security, amongst others. ”I have always been political active and felt responsible for trying to create new possibilities for children, women and Palestinians – that’s why I decided to run for office”, she says.
Those who work against discrimination of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are constantly challenged. In December 2012, the central election committee of Israel (CEC), which is dominated by right wing parties, decided to disqualify the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi, to run in the upcoming election. Prior to that, Zoabi was accused by the governing party, Likud, of denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, because her own party supports ”a state for all his citizens” and by taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 she herself ”had supported terrorism”. Israel’s High Court decided later that Zoabi’s disqualification was against constitutional law.
According to Maayan Dak, who works at The Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organization Coalition of Women for Peace, Haneen Zoabi is exposed to severe political persecution. ”She constantly gets sexist comments, referring to her personal life, her age and the fact that she – god forbid – is a powerful single woman.”
In Nabila Espanioly’s opinion the incident around Haneen Zoabi is one of several examples of the right-wing parties’ political strategy to question the Palestinians’ legitimacy in the Knesset. ”Right-wing parties try to impair the influence of Palestinian leaders in the parliament. They regard our party, which welcomes both Palestinians and Israelis, as the most dangerous party in Israel,” she says.
Despite the circumstances Nabila Espanioly won’t be silenced. ”I’ll always say what I think. I’ll continue my fight for peace and women’s rights, Palestinians and marginalized groups, even if it costs me dear – I’ve paid the price before and I’m willing to do so again in the future.”
The forgotten occupation
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for general elections in Israel last fall. The elections were planned to take place in October 2013, but political friction about the national budget got Netanyahu to call for early elections. The question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine fell off the agenda, especially during the election campaign. “The occupied Palestinian territories used to be a major issue few years ago, for both right and left wing parties. But now the occupation has disappeared from the public discourse”, says Maayan Dak, from the Coalition of Women for Peace.
Likewise not discussed is the link between poverty – which concerned many Israelis during the wave of protests for social justice – and the occupation’s economy .
Disregarded or forgotten is also the question of marginalized group’s representation in politics. Even parties who have a balanced representation of women and men avoid to put marginalized women, Mizrahi-Jewish activists or Palestinians on their list, according to Maayan Dak.
According to Anna Björkman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s coordinator for Israel and Palestine, it is likely that religious and ultra national parties will be successful in the elections. They have already influenced the Israeli society, not least the situation for women. Last year, Israeli media repeatedly mentioned incidents where women had been harassed because they had been wearing “provocative clothes”. One extreme example was the attack of ultra orthodox men on an eight year old girl in a bus, because she was wearing shorts. “Segregation in Israel gets more and more obvious and the election will largely be about in which society the Israelis want to live: A more secular and democratic or a more conservative one”, says Anna Björkman.
Nabila Espanioly is certain to win a seat in the Knesset. If her party won’t win five seats, some of the candidates placed higher on the list will give way, so that women will be represented. Before we hang up on the crackling line between Israel and Sweden, she says that it is important with international solidarity, especially among women’s organizations. “We need all support we can get to be able to continue to fight, we need a solidarity movement,” she says.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen