“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1)
Hearing a declaration that Israel is a Jewish state is nothing new, but hearing it from the founder of a new Arab political party is enough to make headlines. Ship captain Bishara Shlayan, 58, of Nazareth, is the chairman of the new Bnei Habrit (Allies) party, planning to run for a place in the next Knesset elections sometime in the next four years.
Shlayan was inspired by his experiences helping his son and nephew enlist in the IDF. “The entire thing started from the fact that I wanted to get my nephew into the army and there were difficulties, they really didn’t want him to integrate. Today he is a major in a combat unit,” Shlayan told Israel Hayom.
“When I wanted my son to join the army we decided to create a forum for Christian enlistment. We also invited priests from the church to a conference we held in Nazareth Illit. One of them is the Church patriarch, Father Gabriel Nadaf, who preferred [our way] and said we were right.” He refers, of course, to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch who was recently threatened by Arab MKs. Those MKs, dismayed by his support for Christian Arab IDF recruits, called for his dismissal from his church. Although he retained his pulpit, he has been banned from entering the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
Shlayan believes things have to change, and he is not alone. Many like him call themselves Arabic-speaking Christians. They consider themselves Israelis, not Arabs. As Shlayan says, “You need to be like any citizen. If you were in America, you wouldn’t be an American? At least in Israel, those who stayed here have been given the right to be a citizen and to integrate.”
He refers to the political turmoil in the wake of the Arab Spring. The situation of Christians in Arab countries, especially in the Middle East, is often dire. Not so in Israel.
Moreover, Shlayan does not believe the current Arab parties are serving their constituents. He points to 65 years of history: “For 65 years we have given to the Arab communist parties; 65 years and they have done nothing! Give me three years, I will manage and solve their problems.
“Look at what the Arab parties have done. Just talking nonsense about nothing but communism; [MK Dov] Khenin and [MK Mohammad] Barakeh (Hadash), what have they done for us? They want us to disappear and are not acting according to the integrity of their country’s citizens.”
All this prompted him to begin a new party. He has received an outpouring of support from around the world, from Christians and Jews alike. In fact, the party opted to change its name to appeal to a broader audience. Originally called Bnei Habrit Hachadasha, Members of the New Covenant, the play on the Hebrew name for the New Testament alienated Jews who might have otherwise supported the party. The new name, The Allies, is inclusive, and is meant to address Arabic-speaking Christians, Muslims, Russians, Africans and, of course, Jews of all religious stripes, according to the party’s Facebook page.
Shlayan is unequivocal in his support for a Jewish country. “Israel’s first demand, which I support — and which needs to be understood — is that Israel is the home of the Jewish people.” ““I want every Jew in the world to have a place – a state to go back to,” he also said.
However, The Allies party does support a two-state solution to the current Palestinian conflict, with a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Jewish Israel. “I do not want to lose this state, and that is why I am for separation – two states.”
Shlayan feels he has a unique ability to solve Israel’s problems. “Because I am a Christian, I can understand Jews, and the fact that I grew up in the Arab world means I can understand them as well,” said Shlayan. “I love everybody and can unite them.” It seems others agree. He told the Jerusalem Post, “A 78-year-old Jew from Jerusalem contacted me and said, ‘You are making me happy – people like you can make peace.’” Among Shlayan’s goals: to change the Israeli Arab curriculum so that Arab Israelis learn to be proud to raise the Israeli flag.
Shlayan critiqued the Arab parties currently in Knesset. “It’s stupidity. You can be against something pertaining to a certain matter, but the state does a lot of things, so be a partner! Don’t always be against. They think being against Israel is Arab nationalism, that it is the manly thing. But if you oppose this way of thinking, you are a traitor. This is what needs to be changed. It’s stupidity. So I demand that we, the Christians, be recognized as loyal citizens of the state.” When asked whether he would be willing to join a coalition, should he make it to the next Knesset, he responded that it was a mistake on the part of Arab parties not to join.
Still, The Allies need support. Shlayan describes himself as an ordinary man, not a politician. The party is working to transmit its positions effectively. So far, while they have received plenty of attention from media outlets around the world, little has been said about them in the Arab media, a forum where Shlayan’s message is particularly important. According to Shlayan, other Arab parties are requesting that Arab media stay silent. Furthermore, he says, some publications expect to be paid for running political stories, something The Allies cannot afford as a fledgling party.
Shlayan sees many brotherhood opportunities between Jews and Christians in Israel. As the Psalmist once said, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1)