"At a cafe near her home in Jaffa, Nadia Hilou sips sage tea with sugar. In the tiny eatery adorned with literary books in Arabic and Hebrew, Hilou, one of four Arab women running for a seat on Tuesday, is enthusiastic but not overconfident as she speaks about her bid for the Knesset on the Labor Party list.
Hilou, 59, was the first Arab Christian woman to be elected to the Knesset and the second Arab woman to serve as an MK, after Hussniya Jubara. She comes from a progressive family in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa. In an early sign of her character, Hilou was the first person in her community to get a driver’s license, “even before my father,” she laughs. “People used to say to him, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be driven around by your daughter?’ And he’d answer, “No. I’m proud!’” His reaction, Hilou said, encapsulates her family’s open attitude, which was the foundation for her progressive worldview. “They instilled in me at a very early age that boys and girls are the same.”Less a politician than a community activist who views the government as a means of bringing change, Hilou was always a groundbreaker. She was the first Arab woman from Jaffa to enroll in the social work program at Tel Aviv University in 1972. Later, she got a master’s from the same school at a time when the concept of a pregnant woman studying was a bit weird. “At that time, women usually either had a family or studied, not both,” she said.One of her pet projects developed after she gave birth to her second daughter (she has four), when she felt a desire to go back to work but couldn’t find any daycare in Jaffa. So Hilou and four friends started the first informal nursery in their community. “We hired a nanny and rented a place, and brought our own toys from home,” she said. “After two years we had 160 children at the nursery.” The plan gave mothers an opportunity to work and better themselves, their families, and their society, she said.
She joined Labor after Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister and party leader, was assassinated in 1995. “He was the first prime minister who advanced the peace process with Palestinians… and the first to put on the table a very clear strategy for social equality and advancement for minorities and Arab society,” Hilou said. That’s what made her go with Labor, despite objections from Arab-Israeli critics angered that she was working with a Zionist party over an Arab one, she said.
As with previous crossings in her life, Hilou decided to go “her own road” when it came to being elected. Ahead of the 16th Knesset, she participated in the Labor party’s general primaries, opting to compete against the entire party rather than vie for a seat designated for an Arab member, which would have been a far easier race. ”I couldn’t just be a representative for the Arabs,” she said, “I needed to be a representative of everyone, Jews and Arabs. That was the coexistence I believed in.”
Her decision cost her; she failed to make it into the 16th Knesset in 2003 by one seat. But, by sticking to her “values and truths,” Hilou said, she was elected to the 17th Knesset in 2006. Now, as she’s poised, possibly, to enter another Knesset, Hilou reflects on her journey. “I didn’t decide to enter politics overnight — it wasn’t easy for me — but I feel that I must be here to fight for my community,” she said."
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