It is hard to envisage an Arab Knesset member declaring that “if something were to happen to Israel, this democracy that protects everyone, the whole Middle East would be doomed.”
But that is Aatef Karinaoui’s declared conviction, and it explains why he is forming the first pro-Israel Arab party, El Amal Lat’gir — “Hope for Change” in Arabic – to run in the Knesset elections on January 22, 2013.
Karinaoui gives the impression of a man who believes his time has come. A 42-year-old resident of the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev, he is a traditional Muslim but does not consider himself religious. Though involved in politics for nearly two decades, and exceedingly busy preparing his Knesset campaign, he is soft-spoken and patient. In fact, when we recently spoke, in a cafe at Ben Gurion Airport, he repeatedly extended our chat to accommodate my questions — despite the nudging of his staff. And his anger at Israeli Arab politicians, who he says cultivate the division between Jewish and Arab Israelis, clearly runs deep.
“All the bad things they say about Israel and its supposed ill-treatment of Arabs is a lie, a bald-faced lie,” he says intently, just moments after we’ve sat down. “Arab members of Knesset are setting a fire. They feed off of the politics of division and don’t represent the Arab public. The Arab Knesset members do nothing to educate them or advance their situation… But [at present] there is no alternative to the current leadership.”
By forming El Amal Lat’gir, which he says is loyal to Israel and concerned exclusively with social matters, Karinaoui aims to provide that alternative.
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