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The power of the “moderate” branch of the Islamic Movement (Alharaka al-Islamiyya, subsequently referred to as IM) Southern Faction (IMSF) in Israel stems from its ability to adapt to different situations, reconcile with the complex reality of being an indigenous minority in a state that defines itself a “Jewish state”, and operate within the state structure accepting democratic processes that have long been debated to clash with Islamism. Besides being represented in the Israeli Knesset since 1996, the culmination of this adaptation was the joining of the movement to the short-lived Zionist coalition government on 2 June 2021 (the government collapsed in July 2022). This historic entry of an Arab Party into a Jewish/Zionist government coalition for the first time in Israel’s history was a shocking surprise to many, not only due to the IM being an Arab–Palestinian movement but also an Islamist movement. My analysis shows that despite this reconciliation, the IM continues to emphasize religiosity, binding it to the national political struggle and identity of Israel’s Palestinian minority. For its supporters, the IMSF is seen as a meeting point of spiritual/religious needs on the one hand and material needs in the social, political, and cultural spheres on the other. However, for its opponents, mainly from the other Arab political parties, the IM had deviated from the national consensus and accepted strategies and tools to deal with the challenges facing them as a minority in Israel. And, for some others, the IM had even deviated from Islam itself. I draw on a field study that spanned several years. It is based on qualitative, extensive interviews with senior Islamist and non-Islamist leaders in Israel, as well as primary sources of the IM, including publications, leaders’ speeches, and social media. All quotes in this article are based on the author’s interviews during 2022–2024. Interviews with the following leaders and activists: IM leader Abdul-Malik Dahamsheh, sheik Ibrahim Sarsour, former MK Muhammad Hasan Ken‘an, Nosiba Darwish ‘Issa, IM MK Eman Yassin Khatib, NDA’ chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh, secretary general of Abnaa al-Balad (Sons of the Country) Muhammad Kana‘neh, and with Kufr Qare‘ former mayor Zuhair Yahya were conducted by in-person or by phone during summer–fall 2023. The interviews with former IMNF activist Aisha Hajjar, activist Zuhriyyeh ‘Azab, journalist Abd el-Rahman Magadleh, and DFPE member Elias Abu Oksa were conducted via What’s App, Messenger, and e-mail in 2022. The interview with political analyst Ameer Makhoul was conducted in December 2023 via Messenger. Follow-up communication was mainly through What’s App to clarify certain points. The interview questions focused on the reasons for the Islamic Movement’s division into two wings, the religious and political justifications for entering the Knesset and the coalition, the relationship between the southern wing and the main Arab parties active in the Israeli Knesset, the experience of unity with them, and the experience of its members while in the Zionist coalition. This article examines how the Islamic Movement in Israel uses religion as a tool to influence the national, cultural, political, economic, and social lives of the Arab minority in Israel. It asks: How does the Islamic Movement, religiously and politically, justify its involvement in the political game and in a Zionist government coalition, and how do Arab parties perceive this involvement? Moreover, it raises an important question about the nature of the movement: to what extent is the Islamic Movement a political Islam movement, and whether it has abandoned the basic goals of political Islam for the sake of becoming a democratic Islamic party? This article will provide significant insight into crucial aspects of the IM that have been previously overlooked. While being in a Zionist coalition gave hardly any latitude in decision making about policies, budgets were an attractive avenue for the Islamic Movement to guide public opinion and gain political support. The article comes during the ongoing war on Gaza, which will undoubtedly cast a shadow on the political climate and the political map in Israel in general and on the political work of Arab parties and the Islamic Movement in particular. Although it is too early to predict the impact of this war on the Islamic Movement and its political future, it can be assumed that the impact will be profound.

This article was published Open Access through the CCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund. The article was first published in Religions:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.