A few days have passed since the chairman of the Hadash party and the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, announced the boycott of Shimon Peres’ funeral – and I still have a bittersweet feeling of betrayal and disappointment.
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A comparison of the behavior of the leaders of Hadash after the death of Peres with their actions following the death of Yitzhak Rabin attests – like a thousand witnesses – to the sea change the party has undergone. That shift has seen a distancing from the idea of the Arab-Jewish party and submission to the hostility espoused by MKs Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi. On the other hand, the response of the Arab mayors, who came to pay their respects to the Peres family, proves there are other voices among the Arabs in Israel, too.
After Rabin’s murder, the Arab public mourned. Representing these mourners was the leader of Hadash, who viewed Rabin as a statesman who was trying to create the new reality for which they had been working for years. At the time they noted his achievements and struggle on behalf of peace, and extolled the way he dealt with the seeds of incitement from the right, which opposed the Oslo process.
When Hadash joined the ranks of the mourners, it knew very well that Rabin had been one of soldiers of the 1948 war, the army chief of staff during the 1967 war, and one of the most prominent builders of a powerful Israel. He was “forgiven” for all this after the murder.
And what about Shimon Peres? His responsibility for the Oslo process was no less than that of Rabin. He died at a ripe old age, as the opposition that fought the right-wing positions, as someone who tried to convince the political leadership to make the aspiration for peace its supreme goal. Why should his role be inferior to that of Rabin? Why were all his Zionist achievements mentioned? Why did foolishness and narrow-mindedness prevail over what should have been obvious?
In 1995, a feeling of popular mourning spread among the citizens of Israel after the vile murder, but the people were divided between the supporters of Oslo and its opponents. Today the atmosphere is one of hatred for everything “leftist.” Peres, who for years was a victim of hatred and vilification, became more popular in recent years after he filled the role of president with meaning and enormous influence all over the world.
In the battle being conducted today between the semi-fascist forces growing in power and those fighting to preserve the soul of democracy, Peres stood out as a moderating figure, who expressed his views all over the world. In his final years, he raised funds for Jewish-Arab cooperation. I saw the excitement that encompassed everyone present when young men and women from the Arab village of Daburiyya showed him the wonders of robotics, with the help of the Peres Center for Peace.
It is clear that both Rabin and Peres were not the darlings of any of the Arab political parties. They were Zionists who believed in a Jewish and democratic state, operating on the basis of equality. They were not enthralled by the demand to recognize the Palestinian Nakba and the implication of this recognition: The right of return.
The differences between their positions and those of Hadash are clear. But Hadash’s conviction that Peres was not worthy of gestures of respect on their part elicits the feeling among those who oppose the Netanyahu government that Hadash does not differentiate between the protectors of Israeli democracy and those who are rising up to destroy it.
Former Hadash leader Mohammed Barakeh and his colleagues opposed the Zionist beliefs accepted by most parties in Israel, but they differentiated between the incitement of the right wing, with its contempt for minorities, and those fighting for equal rights and protecting universal values, which apply to Jews as well as to Arabs.
I am certain one can find Jews and Arabs who will defend the actions of Hadash. After all, Arab Knesset members should not be co-opted into joining the Jewish public’s mourning of an important leader. But members of Hadash must understand that their decision concerning Peres’ funeral has left me feeling like the late Meretz MK and former minister Yossi Sarid, who told the Palestinians to count him out after Yasser Arafat expressed his support for Saddam Hussein.