A Portrait of the Only Jewish member of the Arab Hadash Party
For 13 years Dov Khenin served in the Knesset, imposing a speech favorable to the idea of an intelligent dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. This was to the chagrin of other members of Parliament and a section of the population called him a communist , enemy to the nation and privileged Ashkenazi Jew. The Israeli Arabs are on his side and admire his banter, his restless yet controlled calm and an irreproachable sense of repartee.
At meetings, quarrels are regular. In the demonstrations and assemblies of his party, he is at the forefront. He is fighting against the social inequalities experienced by a large part of the population, whether they are Jews or Arabs and this is true especially in Tel Aviv, the economic capital of the country and the nerve center of social and cultural movement.
Over the past few years he has received admonitions and even criticism from members of his party. He is reminded that he does not fully understand the Palestinian cause while as an Ashkenazi citizen, he enjoys the privileges that Israeli society affords him.
Dov Khenin is an educated man, a citizen responsible for what is happening inside an Israel where capitalism and individualism have swept aside the collective ideals of sharing and justice of a society; an egalitarian society eager to transform the dynamic with start-ups and other similarities of the genre.
Dov Khenin is in a way the black sheep of a country which is still seeking its true path. His career is filled with pitfalls and each time, he gets away like a wolf in the sheepfold. The film is witness to the various comings and goings of this citizen above all suspicion. Khenin decides to make the best decision of his life: to leave Parliament. By this gesture, he joins the common people in his fight for human rights.
This Israeli documentary from Barak Heymann attempts to win the attention and sympathy of people with varying political views and sets out to, if not bring about concrete change, open the hearts and mind of an Israeli public that is increasingly moving further to the right.
To many Israelis, Khenin is probably more notoriously known for formerly being the only Jewish member of the Joint List, an alliance of the four major Arab political parties in Israel. Throughout the film, Heymann follows Khenin as he navigates two political spaces he understands well, the Knesset and the streets, showing us his tireless activism in action. One of the goals of the film is to encourage a view of common humanity by pointing out similar political struggles in the lives of Palestinians and Jews in Israel. In early scenes, we see some of the socioeconomic problems that working-class Jewish citizens deal with and then transitions to a scene of Bedouin residents in Umm al Hiran being evicted to make room for a Jewish neighborhood.
We see and feel the sense of urgency of the situation through the balanced presentation of the issues. In fact, it seems as though everyone is given a chance to speak about Khenin, from high ranking government officials to people on the streets and even fellow left-wing Palestinian activists who are critical of him despite his well-meaning efforts.
in one key scene in the Knesset where members are discussing a matter concerning a budget for the transfer of 7 billion NIS to the army’s expenses, we see clearly that Khenin can show chutzpah when it comes to the public interest. “Mr. Chairman, this discussion is ridiculing the Knesset…it’s a bluff. Everything is a bluff…. The citizens of Israel need to see what is being done with their money. We can’t have a vote without allowing Knesset members to ask questions. We’re allowed to ask questions.” He is then asked to leave.
The film ends with Khenin’s retirement from Knesset after a very productive career. He emphasizes that he is not retiring from his efforts; he is merely shifting his focus. “The Knesset is very important,” he reassures fellow Hadash party members, “but the struggle for real change does not begin or end in the Knesset.” Khenin believes the source for real change must come from a grassroots movement. Despite his many accomplishments, he remains pessimistic and feels there have been many failures and that much remains to be done. What we learn from Khenin in the film that if we reach out to those who are different from us, there may be hope.