The most persecuted political party in Israel opens its rank to democratic Jews

Report on the 7th Balad conference

By Boris Hammerschlag, Internationalist Socialist League (RCIT Section in Israel / Occupied Palestine), June 2016,


Last Thursday we were taken by bus to the conference in Shfa'amr. Comrade Schwarz and myself sat in the audience as delegates of the ISL, along with 10 other Israeli Jews whose memberships in Balad are in their final stages of processing. We were greeted by the leadership in the entrance and all smiled and shook our hands. The conference had contingents from all anti-Zionist Palestinian leaderships inside Israel (Hadash, Islamic movement, mayors and follow up committee) and also a representative of the PLO who is also one of the leaders of the Palestinian communist party AKA the People's Party of Palestine. A prominent speaker was Omar Baraghouthi - leader of the international BDS movement.


The room was rather big but also full of people, including youths in key organizing positions.


The event was symbolically hosted by a man and a woman. Most of the speakers were Balad leaders including two women - MP Haneen Zoabi and Orly Noy - the most famous of the Jewish section. All spoke mainly about Balad's vision of democracy, anti-colonial struggle and the fact that it is considered "extremist" and being persecuted by the Zionist state.


Indeed Balad, a Palestinian nationalist petty-bourgeois party, has faced persecution by the Zionist establishment since the very day it was formed. Several attempts have been made in the past to exclude it from participation in parliamentary elections on the grounds of opposing the idea of Israel being a Jewish and democratic state and giving support to Palestinian terrorism. For the Zionists Balad’s vision of a Civil Democratic State and its support for the right of the Palestinian people to engage in armed resistance against the occupation of the West Bank and the siege over Gaza - all sanctioned by international law - are a sound basis for outlawing the party.


Having failed in all legal attempts to outlaw and exclude Balad specifically, the election threshold has been raised to render the 3/120 seat party too small to enter the Israeli Parliament. The reaction to this motion was a historic unification of 4 Palestinian political parties in Israel, who also faced the same danger, to form the Joint List, which entered the Knesset with 13 seats, raising their collective power by 1 seat becoming the second largest opposition faction after the Zionist Camp (Labor and Livni’s party).


Being unable to stop Balad as a collective, individual leaders as well as rank and file members of Balad came under Zionist legal as well as political attacks. The founder of Balad, Dr. Azmi Bishara, was forced into exile by the Zionist establishment that accused him of aiding the enemy during the 2nd Lebanon war in 2006; MP Haneen Zoabi faced legal persecution several times for joining the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, aka in Zionist newspeak as “supporting terrorism”, “incitement against a public servant” for lashing out against Palestinian Zionist policemen, etc. Rank and file members of the party faced legal persecution for contacting Arabs from enemy countries and even Facebook posts. During the past two weeks hundreds of young Balad activists were summoned by Police for interrogation and harassment regarding their political views, affiliations and activities.


Omar and the secretary of Balad, Awad Abd-alFataah spoke for the first time about the importance of Jewish participation in the BDS and in the anti-Apartheid movement in Israel and the world. Awad congratulated the Jewish section of "democratic, leftist Jews". The audience applauded and cheered when he mentioned Balad opening its ranks to Jewish full membership in the party.


Awad also spoke about the attempts to redivide the Joint List.


In the next two days only full members remained for discussions and internal elections. The Jewish section would have to wait until the next conference since our applications still need to be processed by the party bureaucracy. However, one important decision already made is that 25% of the party elected body would be reserved for women - making Balad the only such party in Israel. While I was writing this report, news came in through the Party’s Hebrew page on Facebook, that this 25% reservation turned out completely unnecessary as 36% of members elected to the party’s central committee were women, including school teacher Niveen Abu Rahmun who came in 1st place.