ISRAEL - Jan. 30 - Arabs To Shun Barak.
The FT says the Israeli Arabs are set to boycott Barak in the Feb.
6 elections. Barak's Labour party is still hoping the Arab citizens
will change their minds and turn out to vote a week today. They hope
that by voting in large numbers, the Arabs might help to make
Barak's defeat easier to bear. That, says Azmi Bishara,
parliamentary deputy and head of the Arab Balad party, is not going to
happen. The Arabs are no longer prepared to be taken for granted or to
forgive Barak. "I support a boycott. Sharon is worse. But the
boycott against Barak is political, not ideological". (The
Arabs' main complaint against Barak is that he failed to react to
the killing by Israeli police of 13 Israeli Arabs last October. The
police had used live ammunition during demonstrations in the northern
city of Nazareth. These were called in protest at the Israeli
military's use of force against the Palestinians in the West Bank
and Gaza when the intifada started on Sept. 28, 2000. The bullets, claim
eye witnesses and Arab human rights activists, were aimed only at the
Arab demonstrators, not at Jews who had taunted the Arabs). Bishara
adds: "Barak, the left, the intellectuals, kept silent over those
deaths. We were completely isolated". Since then, Arabs have been
detained, some without trial, juveniles questioned without adults, and
hospital doctors forced - under a court order initiated by the police -
to hand over records of Arab patients they treated during the October
riots. Barak is trying to make amends, supporting an inquiry into the
killings. Last week he said he wanted to visit families of those killed
and apologise. "Why didn't he apologise in October?" says
Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Arab Association for Human Rights.
"He half apologised now just when he realises he needs our vote. I
support a boycott. Some Arabs will vote for Sharon out of revenge.
Labour needs to be taught a lesson". "People (in the May 1999
elections) believed Barak might change things", said Zeidan.
Barak's 1999 appeal was based not just on making peace but on
reducing inequality and discrimination, opening up the civil service and
public sector to Arabs, and equalising public funds for their
municipalities. Even though the Arab parties together won 10
parliamentary seats, not one of then was made a minister. "Promises
came to naught", says Bishara. "Barak's indifference last
October showed how he dos not treat us the same as he would treat the
Jewish citizens of Israel". Israeli Arab leaders admit they will be
blamed by Labour if Barak loses heavily against Sharon. But they say it
is time Arabs took a united stance. "We have to break the vicious
circle. The Labour party thinks it can take us for granted even if they
kill us. We cannot pass this attitude on to future generations".
Aware of such ill-feeling, Barak has limited his visits to the Arab
sector. (Indeed, so great is the disgust with Barak that Labour has not
even used campaign posters depicting him. Instead, in Nazareth,
Labour's posters show Sharon on a black background with a quotation
- the colour of blood. It warns Arabs how a Sharon victory could lead to
a repeat of 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or
were expelled from their homes during the war that followed
Israel's independence. Labour party activists admit such
scaremongering has made little impact).