In the end, the heads of the opposition parties managed to cooperate and protest as a unified body, Jews and Arabs alike, against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to bolster his parliamentary immunity and weaken the justice system. On Saturday night, the heads of the Kahol Lavan party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, shared a stage with Labor Party chief Avi Gabbay, Meretz chief Tamar Zandberg and Hadash-Ta’al Chairman Ayman Odeh. Together, they all said no to subordinating democracy to Netanyahu’s interests.
“I am here today because I believe that Jewish-Arab partnership is the only road to hope and change,” Odeh said in his speech. “We can’t do it on our own, but without us, it’s impossible. I’m here today because I believe that without equality there is no democracy.”
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Yet we must not forget that this resounding statement was made from that stage only after a battle within the opposition that ended just a few hours before the demonstration. Even in the opposition, Jewish-Arab cooperation isn’t a done deal in a country that’s divided into tribes and sectors.
We should all be pleased that the battle succeeded and congratulate the people who led the struggle to get Odeh added to the list of speakers. “To hold a demonstration free of Arabs would be to capitulate to right-wing incitement and racism and dance to the tune of extremism,” wrote Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich. Former Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon added: “Jewish-Arab partnership – and certainly in the battle against Netanyahu’s corruption and the destruction of the rule of law – isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing.” After a five-day campaign, the demonstration’s organizers gave in and included Odeh.
But in the opposition’s right flank, some people appear not to have grasped this. MK Moshe Ya’alon of Kahol Lavan said Sunday that the last-minute inclusion of Odeh on the speaker’s list caused “Likud members who were en route to turn around and leave.” He added that he objected to the speech, “and I’ll object next time too.” Two other members of his party, MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, even skipped the demonstration to protest the planned speeches by Odeh and Amal Asad, one of the leaders of the battle against the nation-state law, which Hendel and Hauser support.
It’s important to say this clearly: The absence of Odeh, as a representative of Israel’s Arab citizens, would have pulled the rug out from under a protest aimed at saving Israeli democracy. Opposition leaders would be wise to insist on continuing to walk down the path of Jewish-Arab cooperation despite the rightists among them. If the opposition manages to pose an alternative to Netanyahu’s corrupt, inflammatory government, it will ultimately attract even centrists who are still hesitating.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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