Arab Israeli Leader Urges Barak to Drop Out of Israeli Election Over Comments on Arab Protesters

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh accuses former prime minister of suggesting Arabs aren't entitled to protest: 'You must be left in the past'

Ayman Odeh at a Haaretz conference in 2019.
Ayman Odeh at a Haaretz conference in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Arab Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, called on Saturday for former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to withdraw from the Knesset race.

Odeh condemned Barak, who is no. 10 on the Democratic Union slate, for a post he wrote on Facebook in which he called on Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan not to stifle escalating protests against Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in Petah Tikva.

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The protests, which have been taking place for over a year, criticize the attorney general's conduct – especially in relation to the corruption cases Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embroiled in.

In his Facebook post, Barak wrote: "Erdan, Petah Tikva is not Umm al-Hiran, civilians are allowed to protes." The ex-premier was referring to the Bedouin village that has been at the center of diplomatic controversy over the past few years ahead of its planned demolition. Last year, authorities closed the case against police officers who were suspected of assaulting Odeh during the planned eviction of Umm al-Hiran's residents.

Odeh also rejected Barak's apology for the killing of 12 Israeli Arabs and a Palestinian by security forces during clashes in 2000, which occurred while Barak was prime minister.

"Barak, protesting is allowed in Umm al-Hiran as well," Odeh said in a Facebook video. "Arab citizens are also allowed to protest. Nineteen years have passed since you were responsible for the killing of 13 Arab citizens because they took to the streets. Nineteen years since you betrayed the votes of hundreds of thousands of Arab voters who voted for you in the direct election against Benjamin Netanyahu. We learned the hard way that there are more important things than the politics of 'anyone but Bibi.'"

Odeh added: "We have already seen your cynical election apology to Mizrahi Jews; real responsibility would be stepping down from the public stage. In order to replace the right-wing government and fight for a future of partnership, you must be left in the past."

Barak said in response: "There is no need to help Netanyahu stoke hatred. Odeh knows this well. The misunderstanding of my wording has been clarified: 'In Umm Al-Hiran, the investigation was covered up. This must not happen again.' Exploiting a misunderstanding for the sake of provoking a fight between Jews and Arabs is not partnership. It is a continuation of the despicable cooperation with Netanyahu."

Last month Barak apologized for the killing of the protesters under his watch during a wave of demonstrations that began following a controversial visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.

"I take responsibility for what happened during my tenure as prime minister, including the October 2000 events, when Israeli Arab citizens and a Palestinian from Gaza were killed," Barak told Israel Public Radio. "There is no place for protesters to be killed by security and police forces of the State of Israel, their state. I express my regret and apology to the families [of those killed] and to the Arab community."

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