Israel's New Existential Threat – Ayman Odeh

The Joint List head represents a new stage in the struggle of the Arab population in Israel, which today seeks to be a major force in determining the country's future.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
Ayman Odeh, far right, performed admirably in last week's televised debate.
Ayman Odeh, far right, performed admirably in last week's televised debate.Credit: Channel 2 News
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

It’s called Zidane Syndrome – a combination of clever malice and “hot Mediterranean temperament.”

It was in the 2006 soccer World Cup final, when just a few minutes stood between Zinedine Zidane, the captain of the French team, and world fame. But Marco Materazzi, a player for the opposing Italian team, knew just what would drive him nuts. After a fusillade of juicy insults, Zidane cracked, and the famous head-butt that followed turned him from being the fans’ favorite into a rebellious athlete who cannot control his temper.

Zidane Syndrome lay at the core of the strategy of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman in the televised debate on Israel Channel 2 last week: to grab onto the chairman of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, throw him off balance and then go to town over the extremist, violent, hotheaded Arab.

Odeh didn’t deliver the goods. That is the main secret of his success, the ability to resist temptation, not to let Lieberman drag him into the ring. As it is written in the Masekhet Avot ethical maxims, “The hero is the man who controls his passions.” And Ayman and the rest of his generation of Arab schoolchildren studied the Hebrew scriptures.

In fact, it’s not much an effort for Lieberman to control his passions; he is a strategist, whose emotional temperature is cold to freezing. When he fought to raise the electoral threshold, it’s a near certainty that he figured that one of the options for the parties in the country’s Arab community was unification. We can also assume that this option pleased him, as it followed his script to widen the split between Arabs and Jews.

That sweet dream was shattered early on, when Odeh announced that the plan was to create a democratic camp for both Jews and Arabs as opposed to the separatist camps of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union on one side and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nationalist camp on the other.

Ayman Odeh represents a new stage in the struggle of the Arab population in Israel. In the first stage, after the Nakba – “the catastrophe,” the Palestinians’ term for what happened to them when the state was founded in 1948 – the Arabs were in shock over the expulsion of their families and were subject to the mercy of military rule. Fear ran high, expressed in defeatist sayings such as “The hand cannot resist the spike” and “Even the walls have ears” whenever someone tried to criticize the government.

The second stage is represented by the first great strike, in 1976, in protest of the appropriation of land, that came to be known as Land Day, as well as by the increase in the number of Arabs who went on to higher education, despite discriminatory policies. Both developments ushered in major changes. The young people behind them came to be known as the standing-tall generation. But the straightening-up process went on for too long, and everyone knows that standing straight for too long leads to slipped discs, and that, in turn, causes a need to “change the disk,” in Israeli slang.

Today, the Arabs in Israel seek to be a major force in determining the country’s future. They are calling on their allies, who are a decisive majority in the state, to unite in order to further their common interests. After all, in Israel a handful of old rich men have the state by the throat while an overwhelming majority of the population – from the Bedouin living in unrecognized villages in the Negev to the slum-dwellers and middle-class denizens of Tel Aviv – are humiliated every time they go to the supermarket or try to find an apartment they can afford.

And then, along comes Ayman Odeh and says: I propose an alliance of the disadvantaged. Why is that a bad thing? One could ask, why is that a good thing. It’s actually the right-wing social-justice crowd that understands Odeh. On “Hamateh Hamerkazi” (“The Headquarters”) on Channel 2, the socialite, investor and media personality Judy Shalom Nir Mozes – who as everyone knows lives in a two-and-a-half-room apartment with her husband “Steve,” cabinet minister Silvan Shalom – said that Odeh was a dangerous man. Soon they’ll be saying that he’s behind the Arab-Jewish solidarity terror. And so, after the Iranian threat disappears, we will, God willing, have a new existential threat called Ayman Odeh.

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