'It's the Israeli Occupation We Oppose': Joint List Leader Clarifies Controversial Video

Ayman Odeh says his call for Arab members of Israel's security forces to leave their posts was made in reference to East Jerusalem, which his party considers occupied territory

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the main Arab faction in Israel's parliament, last week.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the main Arab faction in Israel's parliament, last week. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, rejected the criticism leveled at him following his calls to Israeli Arabs to resign from their posts in Israel's security services.

Speaking to Haaretz, the leader of the Arab-majority union of parties said that his stance is not new, and is directed mainly at police officers serving in East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

In his interview with Haaretz, Odeh clarified he was referring "specifically to East Jerusalem, but as long as the occupation continues – any service in Israel's security forces is problematic in my eyes."

"We are against the occupation, and our position states that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and any policing force there is part of the occupation forces," he added.

"I call on those who have enlisted, who are a small minority, between 1 and 1.5 percent, to throw your weapons in their faces," Ayman Odeh said in a video posted Sunday and filmed at Jerusalem's Damascus Gate. "We don't need to be with them, not part of this crime,” he said, “but rather on the same side as our people, in order to end the occupation."

Odeh's comments drew ire from across the Israeli political spectrum. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked accused Odeh of incitement, saying that he belongs outside the Knesset and that there were no prospects of coming to an agreement with him over keeping Israel's embattled coalition afloat. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev of the Labor Party also called the comments "infuriating, dangerous and irresponsible,” while Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan of the Meretz party, slammed Odeh for "working against the interests of the Arab citizens of Israel."

Odeh's party Hadash, as well as other factions in the Joint List, Ta'al, and Balad, support his position. MK Aida Touma-Sliman said that opposing the occupation has always been the position of Hadash. Balad Chairman Sami Abu Shehadeh concurred, adding that "the fact that some in Israel, including in the Zionist Left, don't like it – that's their problem and not the Joint List's problem." Taal chairman Ahmed Tibi told Haaretz that East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and that security forces' violence against the Palestinians "is terrible regardless of their identity."

Odeh noted that he made the video after hearing from young Palestinians from Jerusalem, rather than out of political calculations, in reference to reports over the last several days that the governing coalition — which lacks a majority following the defection of her Yamina party colleague Idit Silman —may now need to seek the Joint List's cooperation.

Some activists for the Joint List, however, were surprised by the video, and believed Odeh is stressing the message that the Joint List is not in any party's pocket – as he predicts the current government has effectively reached the end of the road.

According to the same sources, the centrist and left-wing parties in the coalition are expecting the Joint List to provide backup to the government, despite clear ideological differences with its right flank, in order to prevent Netanyahu from returning to power with the far-right. They add that no formal approach was made to the Joint List, and that such cooperation would be largely superficial. "Such a position will not benefit the Joint List, not in the short-term and certainly not in the long-term," the sources say.

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