Mada's Annual Conference - Galilee Foundation

Mada’s Annual Conference

Mada’s annual conference is an important fixture for Palestinian academia in Israel, where well-respected academics and public figures give lectures alongside the best new researchers and PhD candidates. This year’s conference on “The Palestinian Political Sphere” comprised three days of lectures, presentations, and panel discussions. It addressed why the politics of representation has come to supersede the politics of organisation amongst the Palestinian leadership inside Israel.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, only the contributing speakers and Mada staff attended in person. The proceedings were broadcast live online, with viewers able to contribute and ask questions via social media.

Day 1: Shifts in Political Leadership and Discourse

Picture 1 Dr Mohaned Mustafa & Lawyer Ali Haidar

Dr Mohanad Mustafa, Mada’s general director, opened the conference. The first day was moderated by lawyer Ali Haidar, a human rights activist and academic.

Professor Amal Jamal, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University explained in the first presentation that the Palestinian leadership in Israel has developed a representative kind of leadership over the last few decades, and its legitimacy derives from this fact. It broadly represents those of all ideological stripes and their differing aspirations. The leadership also comprise people of diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds

Picture 2 Dr Mansour Nasara

Dr Mansour Nasasra, a lecturer in International Relations at Ben Gurion University, gave the second presentation. He explained that the Accords contributed to renewed focus on the Palestinian struggle for equality by Palestinian leaders inside Israel, and a decline in the emphasis on local matters and concerns. This coincided with a strengthening of ties of Palestinians in Israel to a wider Palestinian national identity.

Picture 3 Dr Heba Yazbak MK

Dr Heba Yazbak, a member of the Knesset for the Balad party in the Joint List claimed in her talk that after the formation of the Joint List, there was a shift towards parliamentary work at the expense of popular movements and grassroots political action. She believes popular expectations of what the Joint List can achieve are somewhat exaggerated. Despite its important role in promoting a new kind of political discourse, and in championing political and economic rights for Palestinians, the Joint List are ultimately an opposition party with limited influence.

Day 2: “Economic Approaches and the Role of Parties”

Picture 4 Dr Ramez Eid & Mohammad Khalaih

Day 2 was moderated by Dr Ramez Eid, lecturer and researcher in political anthropology and human rights. The first presentation, given by Dr Sami Miaari, lecturer at Tel Aviv University, Oxford University, and director of the Arab Economic Forum, discussed how social and economic changes amongst Palestinians can affect voting patterns in Israeli general elections. When income levels rise and the standard of living improves for the Palestinian community, Arab political parties enjoy a higher vote share to the detriment of Zionist parties.

The next presentation came from Mohammad Khalailh, a PhD candidate and researcher at the University of Haifa. Khalailh claimed that recent election results show the limited influence of Arab political parties in the local sphere. He outlined factors which had undermined public trust in local government, such as party mismanagement, institutional stagnation, problems related to Hamula (clan) loyalties, and Israeli Zionist parties actively trying to undermine it.

Picture 5 Dr Sail Suleiman

The third speaker was Dr Said Suleiman, a lecturer and researcher in Geography. Suleiman referred to the decline of Arab political parties in nurturing political participation, and the many factors behind it. These included the global decline in ‘ideological’ politics, the failure of the Arab revolutions, technological developments and changes, limited youth involvement in party politics, the neoliberal practices of the Israeli state, the lack of competition on the Palestinian Arab political landscape in Israel following the establishment of the Joint List, and finally the over-reliance on formal parliamentary work to the detriment of other, more direct forms of political action.

Picture 6 Aida Tourma-Suleiman MK

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of the Knesset for Hadash in the Joint List, provided commentary on this session. Touma pointed to the importance of understanding Palestinian political action and life in Israel in the light of the collapse of several Arab regimes, and the regional turn towards normalization with Israel. These changes have emboldened the efforts of those who wish to strong-arm the Palestinian movement or force it into submission. Hope for a resolution of the Palestinian issue has all but evaporated; this had led to a focus on civil issues rather than the national question. At the same time, the Israeli government make use of the economic levers to stimulate integration and political capitulation. Touma emphasised the importance of consolidating the Arab parties within a single entity, that being the Joint List, in order that Palestinian Arabs might gain newfound political influence in Israel.

Day 3: Feminist Approaches and Post-Politics

Picture 7 Dr Areen Hawari & Khaled Anabtawi

The conference’s final day was overseen by the head of Mada’s research committee, Dr. Ayman Aghbariyeh. The first presentation was given by Khaled Anabtawi, a researcher and PhD student at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. Anabtawi addressed the crisis in Palestinian political action in Israel following the shift from a politics of organisation towards a political culture of representation. This crisis has manifested in several ways, such as in the growing reluctance of people to be involved in mass political action, and the decline in internal party-political organisation, which has a knock-on effect on other political efforts. This represents a separation of the political and the popular, and a growing divide between formal politics and Palestinian daily life in Israel. Anabtawi argues that this is indicative of a shift from politics to post-politics.

The second presentation came from Dr Areen Hawari, a researcher and coordinator of Mada’s doctoral student support program.  Hawari claimed that although women are almost entirely absent from formal decision-making bodies within the Islamic Movement, they are partners and actors in the political struggle. They occupy positions with decision-making responsibilities in various religious and social institutions adjacent to the Islamic Movement, helping to distribute resources of material and symbolic power.

Picture 8 Heba Hraish Awawdi

Heba Hraish Awawdi, an educational consultant, social activist, and researcher provided commentary on Dr Hawari’s paper. She pointed out the great need to study fundamental legal issues, and not just focus on studying disputed areas of Islamic law. She added that the poor representation of Muslim women politicians at organizational and administrative decision-making levels is not necessarily a matter of exclusion, but possibly a by-product of a high demand for female leadership in other areas where men are not able to take part.

Mada has released a post conference book of all the papers presented An online stream of the conference garnered 7000 views in less than a week. Despite all the challenges posed by Covid-19, a high level of user interaction and lively commentary on social media indicated that Mada was successful at minimising disruption and maximising the reach and impact of its annual conference for 2020. Work is already beginning for the 2021 conference, which, hopefully, will be held face-to-face.

Click here to read the e-book of the 2020 conference (in Arabic)

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