Netanyahu Must Stop Ostracizing Israeli Arab Lawmakers

The Arab public in Israel constitutes some 20 percent of the population, and it is its full right to elect its representatives, whatever their views.

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MK Odeh, left, with PM Netanyahu, in July. the Arab MK told Herzog “not to cooperate with Netanyahu’s racist policy,” adding: “We are the genuine opposition."Credit: Emil Salman

Relations between Israel’s Arabs and Jews are under strain. In addition to the wave of Palestinian terror, Jews are attacking passersby simply because they think they are Arab; various bodies, including local governments, are avoiding hiring Arab workers; and expressions of popular racism, such as the removal of a female Arab student from a bus, are becoming more and more common. Yet at such a tense time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is adding his own fuel to the fire of hatred instead of working to calm passions.

Netanyahu decided not to invite Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh for a security briefing, as part of a round of meetings the premier is holding in the near future with members of the opposition. The Joint List is the second-largest opposition party in the Knesset, yet is the only opposition party that has not been invited for a meeting.

Netanyahu wishes to express his displeasure over the part that members of the Arab faction have played, as he sees it, in stirring up passions on the Arab street. In reality, however, such ostracism on Netanyahu’s part is an act of incitement and symbol of the racist and antidemocratic attitude his governments have traditionally adopted toward Arab society in Israel.

He wasn’t averse to using incitement against Arabs on Election Day in March just to remain in office, and now Netanyahu is continuing to single out the Arab community and trying to undermine its elected representatives.

Despite the fact that they all ran on one slate out of electoral considerations, the positions of Odeh (Hadash) are not identical to those of Jamal Zahalka (Balad). Neither reflect the stance of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which also differs from that of the northern branch. And even if the positions of some members of the Joint List are not to Netanyahu’s liking, in a democratic country the prime minister must show respect for all elected officials, not deprive them of various rights due to their policy positions.

A briefing of members of the opposition, whoever they may be, is not a gesture of goodwill on the prime minister’s part, but rather, one of his obligations. The destructive message to a fear-stricken Israeli public is that Arabs are not part of the Israeli parliament and, in fact, are enemies of the state.

The Arab public in Israel constitutes some 20 percent of the population, and it is its full right to elect its representatives, whatever their views, as long as they are acting legally. Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers must stop the incitement against members of the Joint List. This incitement will not result in an improvement to the situation, but only distance and promote alienation on the Arabs’ part toward the authorities. As a first step, Netanyahu should invite MK Odeh to a meeting and brief him on the security situation, as he has done with other members of the opposition.