Israeli Arab Leader: Right Says 'Death to Arabs', but the Left Will Be the Death of Us

At annual Peace Now conference, plenty of in-fighting but not much harmony as Ayman Odeh says left-wing must engage Israeli Arabs.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, MK Shelly Yacimovich and Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon at Peace Now conference. July 2015.
Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, MK Shelly Yacimovich and Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon at Peace Now conference. July 2015.Credit: David Bachar
Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh slammed Isaac Herzog on Friday, following the Zionist Union leader’s comments earlier this week that Israel’s disengagement from Gaza 10 years ago had been a "mistake", but was demographically justified.

Speaking at Peace Now’s annual conference in Tel Aviv, Odeh called Herzog’s words “a racist statement about me. We are here after the Nakba, Kafr Qasem [massacre in 1956] and October 2000 [when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by the police during riots in the north] – all of which the Israeli left carried out. True, a small part of the right calls ‘Death to Arabs,’ but the left will be the death of us.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) said it was Herzog’s right to call the disengagement a security mistake, but she didn’t agree with him. “In my eyes, the mistake in the disengagement was in its unilateralism. Leaving Lebanon too ... There is a lot of privilege and power in a unilateral step,” she said.

“The difference between a peace agreement with Jordan and Egypt and the disengagement from Gaza and Lebanon was that there is ISIS [Islamic State] also in Jordan and Sinai, but when there is peace, there are security arrangements,” Odeh told the conference. “Therefore, the approach needs to be not to separate and run away, but to make an agreement.”

During a discussion about where the left went wrong in the last Knesset election, Odeh asked all the Arabs in the hall to stand up. Two people stood up.

“I think this represents a serious problem in the peace camp in the State of Israel,” Odeh said, noting that Israeli Arabs “are 20 percent of the population. We do not want to neutralize this power: It is possible to make decisions about war without the Arab population. But it is impossible to reach peace without the weight of the Arab population,” he added.

Odeh said the Joint List made a mistake when it didn’t sign a surplus-votes agreement with Meretz before the March election. “We made a mistake, not because we need another [Knesset seat], but for a moral reason – if we cannot make such an alliance with Meretz, then with whom is it possible? That’s why I accept the criticism,” he said.

Since 1948, there has been a strong security dialogue in Israel, Odeh said, and from 2011 a strong social debate. The time had come to add a civil dialogue, he added.

Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon admitted the left-wing had been soul-searching since losing the recent election. “The question is, what needs to be done? How must we organize as a camp for cooperation of Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews, religious and nonreligious, the entire gamut on the left, in order to win the next election?”

Galon agreed a lot of mistakes had been made. “I want to focus on how we lost among the young against a strong and organized right that bequeaths values of ethnic superiority and contempt for human rights, a media that implants racist, nationalistic messages, and an educational system that is controlled by a strong right-wing.”

Galon also rejected the assumption that she must apologize for inflammatory statements made by left-wingers during the election campaign and afterward.

“For every left-winger who of his own volition makes racists statements – because of the right’s spin I must take responsibility and apologize for them? No! I’m sick of their forcing us every day to come and prove loyalty and patriotism.”

Yacimovich agreed that the left must examine itself, but warned that racist comments must be condemned by the parties. “It is not by accident that racist comments come out of our camp every time. It is impossible to accept them,” she said.

“We cannot sit and lament that these groups do not deserve everything that was done to them, and on the other hand to curse and criticize them as if we are the symbol of rationality. We need some serious soul-searching: To talk about racism, the exclusion of Mizrahim [Jews of Middle Eastern origin], to talk about the correlation between socioeconomic status and ‘Mizrahi-ism’ and ‘Ashkenazi-ism’ is not [letting the demon out of the bottle] – it was always there,” said Yacimovich.

Hundreds of delegates attended the event at the Tel Aviv Convention Center, which was titled Israel Now – Building an Alternative.