Israeli Arab Lawmakers Condemn Hezbollah Terror Listing as Serving Israel's Interests

Two factions from Israel's Joint Arab List call out move by Gulf council and Arab League following internal Arab political pressure.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Joint Arab List leader Ayman Odeh, center with megaphone, and MK Dov Khenin, left with glasses, during a left-wing protest after Palestinian-Israeli violence in Tel Aviv, Israel October 9, 2015. The signs read: 'Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies'.
A left-wing protest after Palestinian-Israeli violence in Tel Aviv, Israel October 9, 2015. The signs read: 'Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies'.Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The decision to declare Lebanon-based Hezbollah Shi'ite militia a terrorist organization by leading Arab world organizations prompted condemnation from two factions from Israel's sole Israeli Arab political party, the Joint Arab List, with Hadash and Balad saying move serves Israel's interests.

Hadash said the decision of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League is in line with Israel's interests and helps maintain the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The party added that the Gulf council's designation regarding Hezbollah is proof that the Gulf states are siding with colonialism and Zionism and against the interests of the people of the Arab world.

Hezbollah fighters stand by the coffin of senior Hezbollah commander Hassan Hussein al-Haj during his funeral procession in the southern Lebanese village of Loueizeh. Credit: AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the factions for their condemnation.

The Hadash faction issued its statement of condemnation over the weekend, expressing its opposition to the listing of Hezbollah as a terror group by the GCC, a grouping that includes all of the Persian Gulf Arab states including Saudi Arabia, but excluding Iraq. The Hadash statement roundly criticized the Gulf states and the Saudi royal court.

For its part, Balad issued a separate statement on Sunday amid policy differences between the different Arab factions and within Balad itself, over Hezbollah's support for the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria.

Mohammed Barakeh (L) at a Hadash meeting in Haifa, January 15, 2015.Credit: Rami Shlush

Balad, which ran in Knesset elections last year, together with Hadash and two other factions on the Joint Arab List ticket, added criticism in its statement of Hezbollah and its policies in Syria, where the Shi'ite militia is engaged in fighting on behalf of Assad's forces.

"The Gulf states' position serves Israel and its allies in the region and serves the interest of harming anyone acting against Israeli aggression and acting to prevent the United States and Israel from setting the agenda in the region," the Balad statement said.

Despite its criticism and reservations over Hezbollah's activities in Syria, the Balad statement said this cannot justify declaring the group a terrorist organization. The Hadash statement failed to comment directly on the situation in Syria due to the view that Hezbollah's involvement there was forced on it due to the involvement of terrorist groups supported by the Saudis and the Gulf state of Qatar.

The two parties' statements follow pressure from party activists who have said that the Arab public cannot be divorced from the implications of such the Gulf council and Arab League decisions. The involvement of Hezbollah in Syria has been polarizing Israeli Arab society, a segment of which supports Hezbollah's operations while others vehemently oppose it.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that is in control in the Gaza Strip, has remained silent on the issue, which has not only been generating disagreement among Arabs in Israel but only on the Palestinian street in the West Bank. "In Arab consciousness and particularly among Palestinians, Hezbollah is perceived as a resistance organization fighting the Israeli occupation, but its stance on Syria has shaken up this picture for many people," a leading Balad activist told Haaretz.

During the second Lebanon War in 2006, despite the fact that a large number of the civilian Israeli casualties were residents of Arab communities in the north that were hit by Hezbollah rocket fire, they did not demonstrate against the Shi'ite militia.

It should be noted that despite the statements by Hadash and Balad, there are also those in the Arab Israeli community who don't see eye-to-eye with them on the matter and there is a complex range of views even within the parties themselves, as there is among Palestinians and in the Arab world generally.

The Hadash party, for example, is not in accord with the position presented to the Arab League by the Palestinian Authority, and it is also at variance with the Palestinian Authority's unequivocal support for Saudi Arabia, despite the cordial relations that Hadash maintains with the PA. "There's no doubt that the story in Syria has shuffled the deck for everyone and a lot of interests conflict and this finds expression in both the positions and the declarations of the players," a Hadash activist said.

Another Joint Arab List faction, Ta'al, has chosen not to comment on the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In the current atmosphere in Israel and against the backdrop of the situation in the Arab world, any declaration is liable to be misinterpreted, party members said.

The committee representing the country's Arab mayors and the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the umbrella organization of all of Israel's Arab political groups, have also chosen not to take a stance on the matter.

But for his part, former Hadash Knesset member Issam Makhoul said he is not concerned about the reaction of the Israeli public to his party's position. "On the contrary, we want to explain it to the public in Israel. At the time, we said the Palestine Liberation Organization was a liberation group and that it needed to be talked to, and in Israel it was considered a terrorist group until negotiations with it began," he said. "Hezbollah is a resistance movement that has fought the Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon and supports to the fight of the Palestinian people to end the occupation" of the West Bank, he said, adding that Israel supports undemocratic regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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