Anett Haskia
Anett HaskiaAnnett Haskia

Early elections were announced just one week ago, and the parties are already working frantically to prepare for the looming political slugfest: building and breaking alliances, fine-tuning their slogans, in some case even trying to realign and rebrand - and, for those who have them, readying for party primaries.

Only a few parties actually have primaries, one of which is the Jewish Home, whose upcoming primaries have been making more headlines than most after a recent, somewhat controversial change to the party's constitution. That change was pushed through by party head Naftali Bennett, who hopes to expand the party's reach beyond its traditional religious-Zionist support base by including a wider range of candidates - all while attempting to maintain the party's religious-Zionist ideological character.

Among the many new Knesset hopefuls looking to run on the staunchly nationalist party's Knesset list is a somewhat surprising face: Anett Haskia identifies as proudly Zionist, pro-"settlements"... and a Muslim Arab.

So what makes a Muslim Arab mother of three from the Galilee join the Jewish Home of all parties? In an exclusive interview with Arutz Sheva, Anett explains her motivations, why she thinks the Israeli Right is better than the Left for Israeli Arabs, and what she would like to change if she ever becomes an MK.

'Praying for a miracle'

Haskia realizes that her chances of running as a Jewish Home MK this time round are relatively slim; party members who wish to stand in the primaries have to have been members for at two and a half years, while Haskia herself is only now in the process of joining.

"But I'm still hoping for a Hanukkah miracle," she quips, and thinks there is an outside chance that Bennett - who as part of the new party rules can unilaterally select every fifth seat on the party list - could see in her precisely the kind of candidate to simultaneously reach out to new pools of support, while still remaining committed to the party's ideology.

"There are many more people standing, who in my opinion are more worthy than myself," she says humbly, but insists she can bring something unique to the party.

The boisterous activist, who was born and raised in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Acco (Acre), says she is currently touring the country "from the Galilee to the south, from Tel Aviv to Samaria," so Israelis can get to know her and understand her motivations and beliefs.

She admits it's an uphill struggle.

"It's something new. Until now there hasn't been a Muslim who joined a right-wing party," she notes, but then quickly qualifies: "I don't know why they insist on labeling it as 'right-wing'. It's just another party and if they're looking to expand the party then... I'm also a legitimate candidate. I'm a citizen, an Israeli in all aspects, and there is no reason I shouldn't stand."

Indeed, Haskia is an avowed Zionist, whose children enlisted voluntarily to the IDF with her encouragement (apart from the Druze, Israeli Arabs are not included in the mandatory military draft). She has long campaigned against extremism within the Israeli Arab community, while arguing for more Arab inclusion and participation in wider Israeli society. She says there are a growing number of Israeli Arabs who think like her - a phenomenon which has been making headlines periodically in recent years, particularly, though not exclusively, regarding Israel's Arab-Christian minority.

But there are plenty of Muslim Arabs who also support the state, serve in the army (like many Bedouins) and, most importantly for Annett, do not feel represented by any of the current Arab MKs. It is that part of the "Arab voting public" she says she is fighting for.

And she adds that people shouldn't really be so surprised at her choice of party either. "There are Arabs who vote for Shas - Aryeh Deri spends a lot of time shuttling between Arab towns - so why should people be so surprised that I support Bennett?"

'Arab MKs don't represent us'

But still, why specifically join the Jewish Home? Why not one of the left-wing parties, or the Arab parties?

This clearly strikes a chord with Haskia, who has a bone to pick with the notion that "only the Left" or the existing Arab parties can look after the interests of the wider Arab-Israeli public. Instead, she describes an Arab community trapped between two camps claiming to have their best interests at heart, but who are really only interested in "using" them to serve particular ideological agendas.

"For 65 years the Arab parties have harmed the Arab sector," she laments, emphasizing that while discrimination does exist - a problem that is high on her list of priorities - the Arab parties are in fact largely to blame.

"They stigmatized us" by taking radical anti-Zionist positions and even supporting terrorism, she fires, while claiming to speak for the entire Arab public. At the same time, they spend most of their energy and resources engaging in political grandstanding, instead of actually tackling bread-and-butter issues facing the constituency they claim to represent.

In particular, she accuses Arab MKs of conniving with the Education Ministry to effectively abandon the Arab education system - leaving the curriculum open for extremists to indoctrinate young Arabs to perceive the state as their enemy. "The Education Ministry doesn't bother with the Arab sector - they don't even know what's going on in the schools... the children don't know anything about rights and obligations (to the state). They learn about the 'nakba' instead of Independence Day!"

"They have done a deal with the Arab MKs - at our expense. For how long should I pay the price for their actions?" 

Many of her friends feel the same way, she says, and while a lot of them do not necessarily support the Jewish Home they have been supportive of her ambitions.

"Then there's the Left, Labor and Meretz, etc., who for many years have 'ruled' the Arab sector. They 'loved' the Arab sector the most, they were the 'good Jews'," she says sarcastically.

Yet she accuses that very same "Left" of presiding over a system which directly contributed towards the "widening gap" between Jewish and Arab Israelis. Through compromises with terrorists and a softly-softly approach towards the extremists within her own community, extremist elements have only become emboldened and more vocal, alarming many Jewish Israelis and drowning out moderate Arab voices like her own.

Instead, she calls for tougher anti-terror measures to target the bad apples, while addressing the grievances of ordinary Israeli Arabs.

"It can't be that a terrorist goes to jail and gets five-star treatment!" she exclaims. "It can't be that someone goes to join ISIS - an organization even more murderous than Hamas - and then when he comes back they give him just 22 months (in prison)! That says that the state allows them to do that, gives them the legitimacy to go."

"Why even let him come back?" she asks. "Remove his citizenship!"

"A terrorist who carries out an attack - destroy his house! Why just destroy a single room?" she continues, noticeably exasperated, listing the restraints placed on the IDF due to pressure from leftist groups.

"If when a terrorists goes to jail he gets five-star treatment, sits on his butt all day and can finance his family - do a degree, a masters, receive a salary from the Palestinian Authority - what's bad about that? Why shouldn't more people do it?

"Then people say: 'the Arabs are terrorists.' No! Stop blaming the Arabs of Israel. The Jews need to open their eyes; there is such a thing as law and order. Toughen the laws and things will change quickly."

Left-wing backlash

Ironically, Haskia says the only serious negative reactions to her intentions to join the Jewish Home party have come from left-wing Jews, not her fellow Arabs. She cites that backlash as proof that left-wingers are only interested in giving Arabs freedom of expression when it suits their own ideological agenda.

"One of them told me: 'If Bennett comes to power, you'll be first to the gas chambers!' Is there anything more disgusting than that? And it was a Jew who told me that - that's the Left for you. Why can't I choose? I never shook hands with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), so they attack me.

"So this is what I answered him: 'You (the Left) don't care about the Arabs - you only care about yourselves! You are afraid that there will be another alternative - a more religious state or whatever... But please, stop using us!'"

"If the Left was not around, if this discourse was not around, we could all live not just in 'coexistence' but in peace," she opines.

"I remember when I was growing up they told us the Likud was racist, that they wanted to kill the Arabs. But then what happened? The Likud began accepting Arabs and has had Arab MKs and that stigma went away.

"There is no reason why I shouldn't join Bennett's party. It's not a party that says 'let's kick all the Arabs out'... I want to change this way of thinking."

Another perception she is looking to change is one held by many Israelis, and others around the world, regarding the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.

"Regarding the so-called 'settlers.' These are people, from all over the country, who live there (in Judea and Samaria) and are a human line of defense. They risk their lives to protect the state's borders, to cover our backs, because without them the terrorists will be at our front door. We saw after the Disengagement (from Gaza) what happened - so many attacks...

"I don't want another disengagement, so I stand with the 'settlements'. And it is my honor to do so."

Has she ever thought of establishing an alternative Arab party? "It's my dream," she replies wistfully. "Give me the money and I'll do it today - I'm serious!"

"Many people write to me. Do you know how many Arabs want me to start a party? They don't necessarily want to vote for Bennett, but at the same time they can't stand the Arab MKs, and they're upset that I can't represent their voice as well.

"But I don't have the budget - for four years I've tried to raise the funds, without success."

But Anett Haskia is not easily deterred, and is optimistic that she can achieve real change, for both Jews and Arabs, by joining a staunchly-Zionist party projected to be one of the largest in the next Knesset.

"We can live together, with dignity - it's easier than people think."