Arab Israeli Leader Invited to Speak at Opposition Rally After Arab Parties Not Included

Israel's opposition excluded the Arab parties from the rally, but following public pressure Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh was asked to speak at the event

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh.
Rami Shllush

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, the chairman of political party Hadash, said he will speak at Saturday's opposition rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to pass legislation that would curb the powers of the High Court, after criticism on the left that he was not allowed to be included in the list of speakers.

On Thursday, Haaretz reported that after Odeh accepted the invitation to address demonstrators, he was told that the list of speakers was already closed and there was no room for additional speakers.

The organizers of the protest, which bills itself as a pro-democracy rally, include all Jewish opposition parties - Kahol LavanLabor and Meretz - but not the Arab parties. The rally is the first time since the April 9 election that Israel's opposition parties will join forces.

After significant criticism that no Arab was included in the rally, Kahol Lavan co-chair Benny Gantz called Odeh several hours before the rally and asked him to address the demonstrators. 

"The struggle against Netanyahu's attempts to destroy the democratic space is a joint struggle that all democratic forces share," Odeh wrote in a post on his official Twitter handle. "We won't have an alternative for a corrupt and destructive regime without a broad cooperation by all citizens, Jews and Arabs. Only thus will we be able to replace the regime, only thus will we be able to pose an alternative to his destructive policy."

>> Read more: It's time to take to the streets | Haaretz Editorial

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg tweeted that "there is no democracy without equality and the struggle for democracy cannot be for Jews only." She added that "all opposition members will be one stage tonight."

Labor's Shelly Yacimovich tweeted that "a protest without Arabs is surrender to racism and to the incitement from the right."

However, the Arab party United Arab List-Balad was not invited. Party leader Mansour Abbas said "the organizers of the 'democracy' rally ignored the representatives of the Arab community so I will not participate in the protest."

He added that he would have agreed to participate in the demonstration had he been asked, but the party wasn’t invited to join the rally and will not be taking part in it.

Although Arab parties will not have official representation at the protest, Hadash-Ta’al said their activists will be there.

A senior member of Kahol Lavan said the organizers asked Odeh two weeks ago if he would speak at the rally but that he gave his affirmation at the beginning of this week, by which time the list of speakers had already been finalized.

However, sources among the organizers said there were objections to having Odeh speak at the rally, resulting in his invitation being revoked.

While Odeh declined to comment to the original report, another Hadash lawmaker, Ofer Cassif, denied the report that Odeh’s reply had been delayed and said it was the organizers who decided to exclude him.

A Hadash official told Haaretz that the party believes Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party was opposed to Odeh speaking, so they made up a technical issue. "If they were interested they would have found him a spot to speak for a few minutes," the Hadash official said.

The demonstration will be the first public test of Gantz's ability to lead the opposition. It will take place at the square outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Speakers at the protest will include Gantz, Kahol Lavan co-chairman Yair Lapid, Kahol Lavan Knesset member Moshe Ya'alon, Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, Meretz's Zandberg, Kahol Lavan's Ofer Shelah, retired Druze general Amal Asad, attorney Sagit Peretz Deri and Odeh.