Islamist Lawmaker Draws Fire for Acknowledging Israel as 'Jewish State'

Mansour Abbas calls on Arab leaders to abandon their rhetoric calling for an end to Israel as a Jewish state, saying it is 'obsolete' and counterproductive

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United Arab List chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the Knesset in November.
United Arab List chairman Mahmoud Abbas in the Knesset in November.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Arab and Palestinian leaders lashed out at lawmaker Mansour Abbas on Wednesday after the United Arab List leader appeared to endorse Israel’s Jewish character during a public appearance in Tel Aviv the previous day.

In remarks delivered at a conference organized by the Globes financial newspaper, Abbas asserted on Tuesday that “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate Arab society into it.”

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Saying that the country is “on the verge of a new era,” Abbas, who represents the first independent Arab party to join a governing coalition in Israel, stated that the country's national identity was “the people's decision” and “that's how it will remain.”

“I was at a demonstration against the nation-state law, and I don't want to mislead anyone. The question is, what is the status of an Arab citizen in the Jewish State of Israel?" he told Globes. "And so the challenge now is not just for Mansour Abbas, but for the Jewish public and the Jewish citizen.”

He added, “We have to decide whether we want to engage in campaigns that have a chance of succeeding, and then we'll be able to develop as a society and prosper, and be a section of society with influence, or whether we want to be in an isolationist position and continue to talk about all these things for another hundred years.”

His comments sparked an immediate backlash. Former UAL chairman and Islamic Movement official Masoud Ghanaim said: “We in the movement and the party do not recognize the state as Jewish,” according to Channel 12 News. “Of course, we do not deny the reality in which the State of Israel defines itself as Jewish, but we do not accept or recognize this reality.”

Ghanaim clarified to Haaretz that "Abbas' words describe an undeniable, factual situation. What was lacking, to me, is that he didn't clearly state that he is against the definition of the state as a Jewish one, that he does not recognize the state as Jewish, and that he aspires to what the UAL was built on – to work towards full equality for the citizens of the State of Israel, and so that the Palestinian people receive their full rights in their nation."

The chairman of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, tweeted in response to the remarks: "Neither the nation-state law nor Mansour Abbas will help. We are not subjects; this is our homeland, citizens by right, and we will work for the state to be egalitarian and democratic. The question of identity should be of concern to every citizen – Arab and Jewish – who cares about peace and democracy."

In a statement carried by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the current UAL leader, saying that he represented only himself and not the Palestinian people. Mansour Abbas' remarks, he said, only serve to endorse the “racist nation-state law.” He continued, "It is unfortunate that Mansour Abbas is adopting the false Israeli narrative instead of supporting his people's struggle." e Knesset member is "falling in line with extremist elements in Israel."

Hamas also condemned Mansour Abbas, calling him "subservient to the Zionist narrative that goes counter to the Palestinian national consensus."

Abbas stood by his comments in a Facebook post published on Wednesday. "The state's definition today is simple,” he wrote. “Legally and demographically, the State of Israel is a Jewish state."

Even if Arabs ignore the legal situation, Abbas said, "the solution [to the conflict] is going to be two independent states,” adding that while he wished that “every country in the world would be a state 'of all its citizens,’” there is “a gap between desires and reality.”

He also called on Arab leaders to abandon their rhetoric calling for an end to Israel as a Jewish state, which he said was "obsolete" and counterproductive. In an apparent jab at the Joint List, Abbas said that he found it “strange" that those who criticize him "have sworn allegiance to the state" as Knesset members.

Abbas’ most recent comments come weeks after he told the Nazareth-based Kul al-Arab news site that “Whether we like it or not, Israel is a Jewish state, and my central goal is to define the status of the country’s Arab citizens. I view myself as a citizen in the full sense of the word, who deserves to receive full civil rights.”

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