Ayman Odeh May Become First-ever Israeli Arab Opposition Leader

If the Zionist Union joins the coalition, Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List, will compete for the position, and his chances look good.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Hadash and Joint List parties, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.
Bloomberg

Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint Arab List, could become the first Israeli Arab to lead the opposition, assuming the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog really does join the coalition. He would therefore also become the first Israeli Arab to gain Shin Bet bodyguards and monthly meetings with the prime minister.

It could well happen. Gaps are being bridged and Herzog is determined to join the Netanyahu government, members of the Zionist Union said Tuesday night

Since moves between the ruling coalition and the Zionist Union began to heat up, a battle has begun taking shape over the identity of the next opposition chief. Under the law, the opposition chairman is a Knesset member from the biggest party in opposition - unless half the members of the opposition support another candidate.

The Joint List is bigger than Yesh Atid. Odeh can count on the support of 18 Knesset members – those of his faction and the members of the left-leaning party Meretz. But there are wild cards. It is not clear that Odeh's candidacy would be supported by three members of Balad, one of the lists comprising the Joint Arab faction; or how "rebels" in the Zionist Union will behave.

So it is possible that Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid would become the opposition chairman, though at this point he seems to have less votes, including the 17 from his faction and from Israel Beiteinu, headed by Avigdor Liberman.

"Over the last year, Herzog didn't even pretend to manage a real opposition to Netanyahu's extremist right-wing government," Odeh said on Tuesday night. "I still believe that for the Zionist Union to join the coalition is a huge mistake that will just strengthen Netanyahu. If that's how things work out, the role of the opposition chairman will be an important opportunity to offer a genuine, democratic and equal alternative that aspires to true peace, and to advance the Arab public."

Yesh Atid declined to comment for this report.