Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, has of late been in the habit of referencing “Representations of the Intellectual,” a book by the Palestinian literary critic Edward Said.
Said recounts himself meeting with one of his idols, Jean Paul Sartre, in the home of Michel Foucault in 1978. There, Sartre praised the Palestinian leadership: Finally, you have some sense, he said. Finally, you have Anwar Sadat.
Today, the man being betrayed is, of course, Odeh, and the traitors are the Zionist left. They have joined hands in a government coalition with the leader of the Arab equivalent of Shas – what Odeh calls the United Arab List – and its leader, Mansour Abbas. The left has abandoned liberal Arabs and no longer cares for the rights of women and LGBTQs. Power is the only thing that interests the left.
There’s a kernel of truth in Odeh’s claim. It’s no coincidence that the government has not excelled in promoting LGBTQ interests, distances itself from issues of legalization insofar as possible and finds it difficult to advance any kind of liberal agenda. The UAL made it clear to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid not to put it to the test. There’s no chance that it will vote in favor of such things. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of Labor and their colleagues have swallowed the bitter pill.
But despite this truth, the major betrayal is that of Odeh and his Joint List colleague Ahmed Tibi of all that they have preached throughout their lives. With his meager powers, Abbas is trying to bridge over 74 years of discrimination. He has barely one-and-a-half party lawmakers at his side. Walid Taha is a tepid supporter, and Mazen Ghanayim already has one foot out the door.
Odeh and Tibi realize that Abbas is taking the right path, or perhaps, the only one. True, they can’t be expected to help him. After all, they’re in the opposition. They're his rivals. But both of them are doing everything in their power to frustrate him.
The UAL lobbied successfully for the Electricity Law, which was a huge achievement for the Israeli Arab community. Tibi and Odeh know that, but still insist that the law is full of holes, pathetic, and accomplishes nothing.
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Abbas won a huge government spending package for Arab local councils, and Tibi respond by pointing out those who didn't receive money and have been left empty-handed. Abbas tries to settle a dispute in the Negev over Bedouin opposition to JNF tree-planting – a dispute that has been simmering for two decades – and gets the JNF to stop, at least temporarily. Tibi and Odeh’s answer is to incite the public, to push, shout and do anything in order to destroy.
Odeh, who spoke courageously about joining the coalition, describes Abbas as a kind of collaborator. Suddenly joining this coalition, as Tibi puts it, constitutes “adopting the policy of generations of Israeli government.”
Two of the most talented people in Israeli politics are unable to overcome their envy and ego, and are shooting themselves in the foot. Tibi is almost certainly one of the five most talented lawmakers in the Knesset. Well-connected, popular with journalists, a genius at understanding the media and entertaining. What a pity that he is harnessing all these talents to undermine the tremendous opportunity that has now been created to advance Arab interests like never before.
When the coalition was formed, Abbas spoke to Tibi several times about joining. There is no reason why Tibi and Osama Saadi, of the Joint List’s Ta’al party, shouldn’t have joined the coalition. It would give the government a wider margin of safety in the Knesset, and they could have used it as a platform to promote the liberal initiatives the UAL opposes. In fact, Tibi in the past ran on a joint slate with the UAL. He can’t really claim that from the outside he is more influential at promoting his interests.
The bad guy in the story retold by Odeh is Sadat. Could it be that Odeh, who is well versed in the particulars of the Jewish experience, fails to understand that for us, Sadat is a hero? A courageous leader, who changed the course of history? It’s true that the Palestinians see Sadat as an Arab leader who threw them under the bus, but if Odeh is trying to convince the Zionist left that they have betrayed their values by comparing Abbas to Sadat, then his algorithm has apparently gone completely haywire.