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Why Should Odeh Be the Glue Holding This Right-wing Government Together?

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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MK Ayman Odeh at a Joint list  party meeting in March
MK Ayman Odeh at a Joint list party meeting in MarchCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

After a week filled with statements by Knesset members and op-eds by my colleagues that left me dumbstruck, Friday’s editorial (Haaretz, April 15) calmed the storm of despair raging within me and allowed me to begin the Pesach holiday with the reassurance that the truth had been spoken.

“The self-righteous, arrogant attacks on [Joint List Chairman Ayman] Odeh, which, as noted, came from both right and left, reached their peak in comparing him to far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and in the call to dismiss Odeh from the Knesset,” that editorial said. “While Ben-Gvir preaches racism, bloodshed and apartheid, Odeh has been calling for the opposite. The comparison between the two was designed to create a false picture of the purported equivalence between the extreme right and the radical left. There is no such equivalence.”

But that isn’t what Labor MK Gilad Kariv thought. When journalist Erel Segal tackled him on air and asked which of them was worse and which less legitimate – Ben-Gvir or Odeh. Kariv was silent for a while, then finally managed to say that it’s not his custom to rank people. In other words, it was the act of ranking that upset him, not the ridiculous comparison.

There’s no doubt that MK Idit Silman’s departure from the governing coalition drove the Zionist left crazy. But the fact that the opposition is embittering the government’s life shouldn’t surprise anyone, nor should its use of dirty tactics that border on extortion, threats and bribery. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has never been known for elegant behavior, and neither has the herd of hangers-on in his party.

The previous opposition also did everything in its power to get rid of Netanyahu and knew no rest until the government fell. That has always been the name of the game. But this time, the stakes are especially high.

For Netanyahu, what’s at stake are his personal freedom and his chances of obtaining a better plea bargain. If you ask his fans, this is about saving the country from the clutches of the police, the prosecution and the justice system. And in his opponents’ view, preserving the current government at all costs is a battle for democracy itself.

I am one of the people who think Netanyahu, in his current legal situation, is a dangerous man, and that he has distorted Israeli society beyond all recognition. But I’m willing to admit that the ugly political culture that has taken root here has infected all the players. It’s already hard to discern any differences between the blocs.

For example, the cynical use of Arabs, a practice registered in Netanyahu’s name, hasn’t stopped with him. Granted, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hasn’t gone as far as a comparison to Ben-Gvir. But he pulled another racist rabbit out of his hat by saying that MK Bezalel Smotrich and Odeh “are working together in the Knesset in close cooperation to undermine the government and the country.”

The weaker a right-wing party gets, the greater its power becomes. If this government was originally based on the understanding that all its component parties had to compromise, now, the instructions are that they have to accede to every demand and every whim of Yamina MKs Ayelet Shaked, Nir Orbach and Abir Kara, lest the government fall apart.

A kind of consensus has taken root that Yamina MKs are suffering more than the others and paying a higher price than the others, and therefore, the leaders of the leftist parties need to serve as a tourniquet to staunch the bleeding from that party. And now, so does Odeh.

Before our very eyes, the Labor and Meretz parties and their voters have undergone a mutation. The nation-state law, connecting illegal settlement outposts to infrastructure, abandoning the victims of the latest wave of the coronavirus and all the other sickening evils – if all this isn’t enough to serve as reasonable grounds for dismantling the government, these parties need to find a scapegoat to conceal their shame.

Please explain to me in what world Odeh and the Joint List are supposed to be the glue holding together a right-wing, neoliberal government – one shaped in the spirit of Shaked and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman – just because Silman fled under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s very nose? Evidently, a world where the left is also afflicted with feelings of blind Jewish supremacy and capable of seeing the Joint List and Israel’s Arab citizens solely through the prism of its own needs.

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