Opinion |

In Israel, Arab Politicians Are Only Legitimate if Netanyahu Says So

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Ayman Odeh in the Knesset.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh in the Knesset.Credit: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Press Office
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

The reason for the left’s onslaught against Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh is the frustration over the possibility the government will fall and Benjamin Netanyahu and his Bibi-ists will return to power. Odeh was supposed to play the Arab MK whose style does not threaten the right in government, so the left might dream that the Joint List will enlist in the mission to prevent Netanyahu’s return to power.

With the defection of MK Idit Silman to the Netanyahu camp and the threat to the continued existence of the change government, the left-wing camp has come to expect that the Joint List, and particularly Odeh, will save the day – whether by joining the government as Meretz has proposed, or by providing a safety net against no-confidence votes. When Odeh and others in the party made it clear that they won’t join the government or provide the safety net, the movement against them among the government’s leftist supporters began to come together.

Such an expectation from the Joint List is detached from reality, and not because of its party members’ unwillingness to mobilize for the government’s survival. The only reason that United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas has become a legitimate partner in a government of Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beiteinu and Kahol Lavan (and maybe even Yesh Atid) is that Abbas and his partners were made kosher by Netanyahu. Without Netanyahu’s “Abu Yair” evolution, Bennett would not have formed a government with Abbas.

The remaining parties of the Joint List are not kosher for the coalition, because the national kashrut supervisor, Netanyahu, never gave them a kashrut certificate. Neither Bennett, nor Ayelet Shaked, nor their colleagues in Yamina, nor Zeev Elkin, Gideon Sa’ar or Avigdor Lieberman would collaborate with the Arabs without this stamp of approval from Netanyahu.

This loss of touch with reality is what’s feeding the frustration at the heart of the campaign against Odeh. Instead of recognizing that the “Anyone But Bibi” alliance may be disintegrating over the issue of foods forbidden for Passover, or maybe because of Bennett’s adoption of Tel Aviv discourse, the more likely reason is the wave of terror that has sent everyone back home in more ways than one. Instead of blaming Silman, instead of admitting that in every way this is a right-wing government, and that true left-wing parties – not those that are leftist in their self-image – have no business in this government, the anger is slowly being diverted toward the Joint List.

Instead of recognizing that the right wing in the government is the reason that the Joint List’s MKs are not members of the coalition – Odeh, remember, was willing to cooperate with Benny Gantz in the previous round, but was left holding the olive branch in vain because Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser torpedoed the deal – a process of identifying with Hendel and Hauser while blaming Odeh and his colleagues has begun.

This is frustration over the political impotence of a socioeconomic minority that for historical reasons identifies as leftist, and that is looking for someone on whom to cast the blame. Why have we lost power? Not because we have 13 Knesset seats on a good day, and all the rest of our Jewish friends are right-wingers who support the nation-state law and the settlements and deny the occupation – but because Odeh is not a partner. Like Ehud Barak after Camp David, who told the camp that “I have left no stone unturned on the road to peace. … I offered the Palestinians everything they could have asked for. … We have no partner for peace,” as Uri Misgav decided about Odeh and his party (Haaretz in Hebrew, April 14).

If only you wouldn’t mention the occupation, we could stay in power. Clearly, if it wasn’t for the video of Odeh from Damascus Gate, the change government would sign a treaty for global peace. No doubt this is how to avoid a deep discussion on the left of the legitimacy of the change government, which declares there will be no strategic change on the Palestinian issue. But what does Odeh have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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