Editorial |

Arab Israeli Lawmaker Odeh Said Nothing Wrong

Haaretz Editorial
Ayman Odeh (C), leader of Israel's predominantly Arab Joint List their campaign headquarters in the predominantly-Arab northern Israeli city of Shefa Amr in March.
Ayman Odeh (C), leader of Israel's predominantly Arab Joint List their campaign headquarters in the predominantly-Arab northern Israeli city of Shefa Amr in March.Credit: Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP
Haaretz Editorial

The right wing and large portions of the left got together this week in a nearly wall-to-wall attack on Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List Knesset faction, who had called on Arabs serving in the security forces to quit and “throw away their weapons.” The attacks on him continued even after he clarified that his remarks had been directed at Arabs serving in the occupied territories.

This controversy didn’t need to erupt. Odeh expressed a legitimate opinion that has always existed among the political leadership of the Arabs of Israel.

It’s actually the attack on him, particularly the one coming from the left, that is not legitimate. Those who were disappointed by Odeh wanted a “good Arab” and got another “bad Arab.” They wanted an Arab who was easy to digest and got an Arab who has been calling for refusal to act against his people, which is living under occupation. Demanding that Odeh not express such a position, which apparently reflects the mood of most of the Arabs of Israel, means demanding he deny his complicated identity and ignore the suffering of his people. Demanding that he support Israeli Arabs serving in the territories means demanding that he change his skin, that he convert to Judaism and alienate himself.

Did those attacking Odeh expect he would support Arab Israeli soldiers who exert military control over members of their people living under occupation – in the alleyways of East Jerusalem, in the Nablus casbah and in the Jenin refugee camp? Did they expect Arab Israelis to support the occupation and even call to assist in its maintenance through violent means?

The self-righteous, arrogant attacks on 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. 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.

The demand for Odeh’s dismissal from Knesset is even graver. If his view has no place in the Knesset, then there’s no place for the Arabs of Israel in the Knesset. A purely Jewish Knesset is a much greater danger than any remark by an Arab Knesset member, which might grate on many Israelis but must be respected and accepted.

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