Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka
MK Hanin Zoabi
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Daam leader says she's 'not Zoabi'

Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka objects to 'nationalistic' discourse, promises to represent Jewish and Arab workers pitted against each other by government's 'divide and conquer' policy

While many Arab Knesset members are known mostly for their harsh criticism of Israel, one Arab woman sees things quite differently.


Together with her Jewish partners, Asma Agbarieh Zahalka leads Daam, the "Workers' Party." She aims to direct the political discourse to a wholly different area.


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"We combine a political agenda with a social one," she said. "Our aim is to represent Jewish and Arab workers, the unemployed, women and youth who are pitted against each other by the government's "divide and conquer" policy.


"This policy is designed to prevent a real dialogue between Arabs and Jews on the basis of social and class issues, a dialogue which will replace the existing nationalistic, isolationist and extremist discourse."


אסמא אגבאריה-זחאלקה, השבוע בחוג בית בערערה

Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka in a house meeting


She objects to Balad MK Hanin Zoabi's "political persecution," but disagrees with her political ways, because "she isolates the Arab public from the rest of society. I believe in an anti-nationalistic discourse which combines a political agenda with the end of the occupation."


2,645 votes in the previous election

Agbarieh-Zahalka, a Jaffa resident, is married and has a four-year old boy. She decided at 22 to join the newly-formed leftist party Daam in 1995.


Though the choice of a young woman from a traditional background to join the socialist political world was questioned at first, doubts dissipated quickly as she climbed up the party ladder and became Daam's leader.


She joined the party after working as a language editor in the party's paper, a role which exposed her to the hardships of the lower classes.


"The distress of workers, farmers and the unemployed convinced me of the need to fix society, and not just proof articles," she said.


In the "Tel Aviv Left" and among Arab youth a growing interest has been noted in the party, which ran in several elections but failed to get close to the electoral threshold of 2%.


In 2009 it received only 2645 votes, achieving similar results in the Tel Aviv municipal elections, where Agbarieh-Zahalka ran for mayor.


But the slim chances don't worry her. "The Knesset is not our only arena. We are active daily in the streets, in factories and in campuses.


"The Knesset, important as it is, is not the only arena for action. Nevertheless, I have a feeling we'll get there."


"Not here to sympathize and disappear"

What is most alarming in the political situation is, according to her, "(Moshe) Feiglin, (Naftali) Bennett and (Avigdor) Lieberman's monopolization of the public discourse while the Left is confused, sectarian and disorganized.


"We want to give a sane response, one that is grounded in social reality, act against the privatization and cuts which will soon crash the lower classes and promote employment and gender equality."


As an Arab and a woman, Agbarieh-Zahalka said, she "suffers from a double repression, but when I go to factories, to truck drivers and agricultural workers and lead struggles together with party members and our workers' union, the treatment is respectful and appreciative.


"People appreciate our work and the fact we treat their distress seriously, not just sympathize and disappear."


"איך אפשר לשבת בכנסת בשם הציבור ולהרוויח פי 10 מהציבור?"

Will donate her MK income if elected. Agbarieh-Zahalka (L) 


Musa Zahalka, Asma's husband, works in a theater, shooting movies and occasionally in renovation. He and their child barely saw her in the last two months because of her political activity, but Musa is wholly supportive:


"It's hard, but I'm with her to the end. My wife is stubborn, believes in her way and doesn't give up easily. She has tremendous confidence. She is always attentive, always tries to help, and she hates racial discrimination."


Agbarieh-Zahalka promises that if she is elected she will donate most of her pay towards social activity. "We think the public's money should be returned to the public and that MKs shouldn't think of themselves as being above the people.


"An MK shouldn't be elected for the benefits and the fat paycheck. We'll get the average income from the party, because those who intend to bring about real change should be attentive to the needs of those who elected him.


"How can one sit in the Knesset in the name of the public, and earn 10 times more than those who elected him?"



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פרסום ראשון: 01.11.13, 14:48
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