Arab MKs' statements supporting terror influence Jewish Israelis too - analysis

Hadash-Ta'al MK Aida Touma Suleiman posted on Facebook in memorial of terrorists killed by the IDF, calling them martyrs.

 Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Sometimes it seems that MKs from Arab parties in this country think that what they say or tweet in Arabic is not heard by Israelis who don’t understand the language.

Tuesday was one of those times.

Hours after the IDF killed five members of the Lions’ Den terrorist group, including those considered the group’s leaders, Hadash-Ta’al MK Aida Touma-Suleiman took to Facebook to bewail their deaths. 

“Nablus bids farewell to its martyrs today,” she wrote in Arabic. “Today our Palestinian people bid farewell to their martyrs. The more the occupation increases its crimes, the more resistance escalates. A basic lesson in the history of nations.”

And then, some people wonder why so many Israelis oppose incorporating Touma-Suleiman’s party into a future coalition or even relying on its support to form a government.

 Arab members of the Israeli parliament Osama Saadi, Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh stand together as Tibi speaks to the media, amid tension ahead of a flag-waving procession by far-right Israeli groups at Damascus Gate, just outside Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD) Arab members of the Israeli parliament Osama Saadi, Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh stand together as Tibi speaks to the media, amid tension ahead of a flag-waving procession by far-right Israeli groups at Damascus Gate, just outside Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

It is not, as some argue here and around the world because the country is full of Jewish racists who don’t want to give Arabs full rights or let them sit around the government table to get an equitable piece of the budgetary pie. Rather, it’s because of attitudes such as these: praising terrorists who want to kill Israelis.

It is also because of attitudes articulated by Hadash-Ta’al party head Ayman Odeh, who while tensions were at a fever pitch in mid-May, posted a Ramadan-greeting video from Jerusalem’s Damascus gate saying he hoped to see Palestinian flags flying there one day, and encouraging Arabs serving in the police and security services to “throw your guns in their faces and tell them our place is not with you.” He said that Arabs serving in the police and security services were “humiliating our people, humiliating our families and humiliating everyone who comes to pray in the blessed Aksa Mosque.”

Will such statements affect the future coalition?

Meretz MK Michal Rozin was asked about Touma-Suleiman’s statement on a KAN radio program o Wednesday morning. After making clear that she thought these remarks were “shocking” and “unnecessary,” she was asked by radio host Kalman Liebeskind – who said that he understands that in Rozin’s view a coalition with the Religious Zionist Party of Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir is terrible – whether one with Hadash-Ta’al or a coalition that relies on their support, is any less terrible.

“I think it is less terrible,” she said

“I want to sharpen my question,” Liebeskind pressed. “When your son and my son were fighting in Nablus, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich were praying for their well-being. The friends in what might be your future coalition, Aida Touma-Suleiman and Ayman Odeh, prayed for the well-being of the terrorists. That is the whole story; you prefer them.”

“When your son and my son were fighting in Nablus, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich were praying for their well-being. The friends in what might be your future coalition, Aida Touma-Suleiman and Ayman Odeh, prayed for the well-being of the terrorists"

Kalman Lipskind

Rozin protested that this was not the “whole story,” and that Liebeskind was belittling matters. She said Touma-Suleiman and Odeh are the representatives of the Arab public, who voted for them, and therefore thinks it is important that “we make them partners in political and parliamentary life in Israel.”

Touma-Suleiman’s comment, in other words, will not sway Rozin, who will not rule out a coalition that relies on her support.  But these comments could very well influence a few thousand former Yamina voters, deliberating whether to vote for Yesh Atid or Benny Gantz’s National Unity party on the Center-Left block, or Likud, the Religious Zionist Party or Ayalet Shaked’s Bayit Yehudi on the Right. 

Gantz wisely distanced himself immediately from the MK’s words and said that his party would not join a government supported by Hadash-Ta’al either inside or outside the coalition, and that “Israel’s security was more important than forming a coalition.”

Lapid, however, did not issue a similar unequivocal statement. In an interview on KAN Channel 11 on Wednesday evening, he denounced Touma-Suleiman’s comments as “horrible and “unforgivable,” said that he would not bring her party into his government, but would not say that he would not rely on the party’s support to form a coalition.

And this could cost him voters on the “soft right” who don’t want to see the Jewish state’s government in the hands of Hadash-Ta’al – not because of the Arab identity of most of their MKs, but because of their positions.

This is worth stressing because Odeh, Touma-Suleiman, Ahmad Tibi and the party’s Jewish MK, Ofer Cassif, often shout that racism is the reason most Israelis view them as out of bounds when it comes to forming a government. 

So, what would motivate Touma-Suleiman to issue such a statement? First, because she believes it. Because she believes that terrorists who shoot at soldiers and civilians in passing cars in Judea and Samaria, and dispatch others to carry out a major terror attack in Tel Aviv, are freedom fighters and Palestinian “martyrs.”

And secondly, because it is less than a week before an election in which her party is fighting to stay above the 3.25% electoral threshold and she believes that these words will resonate on the Arab street; that this is the rhetoric her constituency wants to hear; that this will stir them out of what is believed to be voter apathy in the Arab sector.

But Touma-Suleiman is overlooking one thing: her constituents are not the only ones hearing these incendiary words.

Jewish Israelis, including the parents of soldiers trying to keep those she dubbed martyrs from killing their countrymen, hear them as well. And when they hear these words, they recoil at the thought of giving the person who uttered them a determining say in running the country. Not because she is an Arab, but because of what she stands for.