Background of a Boycott

The boycott of Shimon Peres' funeral by Israeli Arab MKs achieved its goal: placing the opposing narrative of the Arab minority at the media and public center stage, backed by the power of the third-largest faction in the Knesset.

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Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the 2015 Israel Conference on Peace.
Joint List party leader MK Ayman Odeh at the 2015 Israel Conference on Peace.Credit: David Bachar
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

The decision by the Joint List MKs not to attend former President Shimon Peres’ funeral stated a very significant political fact. The leadership of the Arab public rebelled against the narrative of the Zionist majority, which ignores the history and feelings of the minority, and demonstrated dual political independence – vis-à-vis the official Israeli establishment, represented by Peres, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who came to the funeral.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh appeared on the establishment TV Channel 2, our “tribal campfire,” and faced barbs of criticism from the interviewers when he presented an opposing narrative – the memory of the Nakba, the massacre of Kafr Qasem,and the Arabs killed during the events of October 2000, commemorated in ceremonies in the Galilee and Wadi Ara. Never has a political figure from the majority Jewish community attended these events and they are not covered on prime-time television.

The boycott of the funeral thus achieved its goal: placing the opposing narrative of the Arab minority at the media and public center stage, backed by the power of the third-largest faction in the Knesset. The excoriations of Odeh and his fellow faction members for their impoliteness will neither disappear nor blunt their principled demand that the Jewish majority recognize the suffering and mourning of the Arab public as a necessary condition for the building of a shared identity and political cooperation in the future.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers to Israel’s Arab citizens more funding, promises of integration into the employment market and promotions in the civil service, in exchange for silence and forgetting their narrative. The prime minister often says the Nakba is a lie, that 90 percent of the stories about it are not true and that people who make the events public cause damage to Israel. No wonder his government insists on hiding the archive files that would expose some of the events of 1948 from primary sources.

Any additional funding and action to close gaps between Jews and Arabs is welcome and important. But they will not buy the silence of the Arab community nor inspire the singing of the national anthem “Hatikva” in the streets of Nazareth, Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm. Only recognition of a parallel Israeli story, at the heart of which are immoral acts by the majority toward the minority, can be the basis for shared citizenship and true integration. Jewish history teaches that peoples do not easily give up their narrative, even in the face of temptations and persecution.

This is the challenge that has now been set before the Jewish politicians who dream of replacing the right-wing government and stopping Israel’s slide down the binational slope. Their goal will not be achieved without the cooperation of the Joint List and its voters. Instead of taking a knee-jerk stand with Netanyahu and the extreme right, and chiding the Arabs for not being nice, they must find a way to win hearts in the minority community.

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