Opinion |

Arab Leader Ayman Odeh Shoots His Own Voters in the Foot

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi in 2021.
Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

The Joint List's Ahmad Tibi has been waging a battle for over a decade to integrate young Arabs into public service from the understanding that it is the path to social mobility, reducing inequality and equal opportunity. He sends letters, annoys public bodies with questions and makes sure that government decisions and legislation on the question of proper representation for the Arab community are implemented.

This has produced some excellent achievements, and in some government ministries Arab representation is already close to its proportion among the general public. Successful integration means that an Arab can work in any field: from the budgetary division in the Finance Ministry to the Bank of Israel, in the health system, Israel Police or even on Israel’s national all-star soccer team.

Then suddenly, along comes MK Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, and shoots the Arab community in the foot: “It’s a disgrace that a young Arab or the parents of a young Arab would agree to enlist and serve in the security forces, which are actually forces of the occupation,” he insisted this week. “It is completely and totally forbidden for any young Palestinian to enlist in the occupation forces. I implore the young people and the families of those who have enlisted … throw your weapons back in the faces of the occupation forces … Your natural place is in the bosom of the Palestinian people.”

Odeh is squeamish over the fact that Arabs are part of the security forces, and this includes the police, and they are fighting crime and violence – in the Arab community too. His call is consequential for Arab society and the very project of equality.

In Israel in general, and in the Arab community in particular, preserving security and public order to guarantee a basic quality of life for everyone is a critical national mission. Many Israelis were moved by the heroism of Amir Khoury, the police officer who charged the terrorist in Bnei Brak and was killed. He saved many lives and paid for it with his own, and his death revealed a lesser known side of the lives of Arab citizens in Israeli society.

When Odeh calls on the Arabs serving in the security forces to throw down their weapons, he sets a clear division of roles in stone: Jews defend security, Arabs undermine it; Jews are policemen, Arabs are crooks; Jews keep order, Arabs violate it. This is a proven prescription for harm, both in Arab society and in the police and Border Police. It will only increase the indifference of the Jewish Israelis to the violence in Arab society, reduce the equality of opportunity and raise the walls higher between Jews and Arab.

Odeh has narrowed his view of the issue of security to an ethnic and nationalist one, but personal security is made up of an endless number of interactions and situations that are not related to what goes on over the Green Line. He ignores the value of service in bringing down barriers and improving the police’s understanding of what is happening in Arab society, and he is also ignoring the enormous socioeconomic value of serving in the security forces, and the value it provides to those serving in terms of making a living, professional training, networking and social mobility.

It is no secret that the two main groups that do not serve in the IDF are the poorest in Israel. According to the figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Employment Service, the per capita annual GDP of non-Haredi Jews is $48,912, compared to just $17,627 for Arab Israelis and $15,188 per person for Haredim.

For Haredim, this poverty is out of choice. But for Arabs, the gap is the result of a poor education system, language barriers and a lack of military service, which provides a second chance for those who the system has left behind through professional and command experience, social connections and aid in further studies among other benefits.

Odeh tried to present himself as a peace-loving leader, but his political calculations outweigh the critical need to deal with crime, terrorism and violence, as well as inequality, all of which the Arab community suffers from greatly. Now he is doing exactly the opposite of that Tibi has been trying to do for the past decade.

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