As a Jewish Israeli Communist running for election under an Arab banner, Dov Khenin is often the butt of jokes. But for some, he is nothing less than a traitor.
In a country where most of the electorate leans to the right, the 57-year-old member of a Communist party that includes both Jewish and Arab lawmakers is used to threats and hate mail.
But the backlash intensified after his party united with the main Arab factions, including the Islamist Movement, on a joint list ahead of snap elections on March 17.
Although Khenin is not the only Jewish Israeli on the list, which counts 119 people, he holds the eighth slot, making him the only one with a realistic chance of entering parliament on the Arab slate.
Khenin’s Facebook page has been filled with a litany of abusive postings including threats of physical and sexual assault, and accusations of anti-Semitism.
“I’ve been subjected to many threats,” the father-of-three told AFP, saying that during last year’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the state security services had to protect him and his family.
“It wasn’t a pleasant situation… but it wasn’t enough to make me change my views,” he told AFP while campaigning in the Bedouin village of Laqiya in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
“I see myself first of all as a human being, a socialist, an Israeli, a Jew that cares a lot for his people, and who offers them an alternative, a better way than that presented by the ideology of those ruling Israel.”
A proactive legislator, Khenin has been involved in proposing various bills relating to human rights and particularly women’s rights.
But he carefully avoids the question of whether or not he is a Zionist — a label even liberal Israelis give themselves — perhaps so as not to upset the Arab-Israeli electorate.
If Khenin’s views were unpalatable for most Israelis before the snap election was called, the Hadash Communist party’s joining forces with three Arab parties has seen the attacks increase exponentially.
“A party of Israel-haters who represent Hamas,” wrote one person on Facebook
“It’s always amazing to see the Judenrat sucking up to the new Nazis,” wrote another, referring to Jewish officials who collaborated, often under duress, with Hitler’s regime during World War II.
“How can a communist exist alongside the extremist Islamic Movement? Shame on you! … It’s sad that there are Jews that have sold their soul,” added another.
But Khenin insists that his party has not “merged with the Islamic Movement.”
“There’s a political alliance here by parties who depend on the (vote of the) Arab population primarily to counter attempts to exclude Arabs from the Israeli political arena,” he said.
– ‘No security, peace’ –
The Arab joint list was formed in January to fight against the domineering influence of the rightwing parties who featured prominently in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, its leaders say.
“The extreme rightwing government has led the Israeli society to a deadlock,” Khenin said of Netanyahu’s outgoing cabinet which included hawkish pro-settlement ministers and those who flatly oppose the notion of a Palestinian state.
“After years under Netanyahu’s rule, there’s no security here, there’s no peace. There are no solutions for social problems.”
During the previous elections in 2013, Hadash and the other Arab parties ran separately, collectively chalking up 11 seats.
But after the threshold of minimum votes needed for any representation in parliament was raised from 2.0 to 3.25 percent, the parties were forced to unite in order to survive.
A poll published Wednesday in the Haaretz daily predicted the joint list will garner 12 seats — the same number as the centrist Yesh Atid and the far-right Jewish Home party.
The other candidates on the joint list, which is hoping to become the third bloc within the next parliament, speak Hebrew when talking with Khenin, although he also understands Arabic.
Far from the failed rounds of peace talks and settlement building of Netanyahu’s hawks, Khenin wants an independent Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel, and an enfranchised Arab minority existing within the Jewish state.
“This minority doesn’t pose a threat to anyone, and equal rights for them shouldn’t frighten Jews. It will not exist in the place of Jews, but side by side.
“A democratic state in which citizens have equal rights is not something one should fear, but work to realise.”
As for the thorny issue of Jerusalem’s status: “Two capitals in Jerusalem is very possible. It will fulfil the aspirations of both peoples, and enable us to achieve peace in this land,” he said.