Opinion

Arab Lawmakers Should Be Thanked, Not Reproached, for Boycotting Peres' Funeral

By refusing to conform, Joint List has made a defiant statement about what they really think about their place in the Jewish and democratic state – while we are refusing to listen, and certainly to internalize.

Israel Harel
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Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the 2015 Israel Conference on Peace.
Joint List party leader MK Ayman OdehCredit: David Bachar
Israel Harel

The reproof the Joint List suffered came from a source that, without a doubt, started with good intentions: The boycott of the funeral ceremony for Shimon Peres hurt the feelings of Jewish Israelis. The result of this insult will be damage to the joint fabric of life, and it is mostly Arab Israelis who will suffer from it.

At such moments, one must rise above such things and give preference to the community’s present interests over the attitude to past events, as difficult and bitter as they may be. In fact, the Israeli right’s feelings towards the departed, especially since Oslo, were extremely harsh. Yet the right-wing government impeccably conducted a complex and expensive funeral ceremony for a bitter rival; well beyond what the ceremonial protocol required and what was accepted for the memorial ceremonies of previous presidents, including for such beloved figures as Yitzhak Navon. The rhetoric of both the right-wing prime minister and president was supremely statesmanlike and proper, as is appropriate on such occasions. Noblesse oblige.

Yet the constructive criticism stems from a mistaken assumption. In day to day life, mostly in economic integration, significant progress can be seen. Most Palestinian Israelis are interested in a comfortable life and are not fighting a violent battle for national rights. But this assessment is true only for the moment, and it too is deceptive. The fact is, they have voted for the Joint List of Arab parties to represent them. And the entire list, led by its moderate (in the eyes of the Israeli media) leader Ayman Odeh, has chosen the path of the boycott. And they, the leadership, know better than their Israeli well-wishers what is good for their flock.

They are of the opinion that this economic integration is the result of irrepressible economic development, and even if an economic or other retreat occurs, national pride is not bought at the price of conventional politeness and economic interests. The representatives of the Palestinians in Israel have proved that they are the ones washing away the guilt from those prominent Israeli leaders who called evil good, and told darkness it was light.

The Arab truth reverberated actually because the Jewish rhetoric was not careful to stick to the truth, even if it is a forced truth reserved for eulogies. And the Joint List is telling the truth: Yes, even the version of peace according to Peres, Israel’s ultimate man of peace, is not really a formula for peace; not in what it offered a Palestinian state and not in the matter of fulfilling the aspirations of Palestinian Israelis. We demand, as a minimum, Israel’s recognition of the Nakba, right of return and the transformation of Israel into a state of all its citizens.

Even Peres was not willing to go that far, or maybe he was not able. Instead of speaking ill of them, we must thank Odeh and his colleagues, who insisted on saying publicly, confidently and as of late also defiantly, what they really think about their place in the Jewish and democratic state – while we are refusing to listen, and certainly to internalize. Only those who continue to deny and refuse to deal with it can rebuke Odeh for boycotting the funeral.

The leaders of the Arabs in Israel have chosen to shake up their voters; preach to them where they should be heading; and that no Jewish leader will lead them, cannot lead them, to their promised land. This they have done in an impressive and also threatening manner at a time when their short-term interests actually dictated showing self-restraint. But this threat will not filter down deeply into the awareness of the Jews in Israel. The present leaders, too, like the Oslo leaders, are behaving like ostriches, and are in denial of what is being shoved in their faces with clarity, severity and brutality.