'This has given Israeli Arabs a sense of belonging'

Labor MKs cheer while Israel Beiteinu, Arab parties express their disapproval.

majadle mikes 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
majadle mikes 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When Avraham Burg retired from the Knesset, he left behind the dubious honor of receiving the top slot in the Labor list twice, but never receiving a cabinet appointment. On Sunday, Burg's replacement in the Labor Party, MK Ghaleb Majadle, proved that the third time could be the charm when he was approved as the country's first Arab minister. In a nearly unanimous vote, Majadle was appointed as a minister without a portfolio. He is expected to receive control of either the Welfare Ministry or the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert completes his anticipated government reshuffle in the coming weeks. "The first step has been taken and this has given Israeli Arabs a sense of belonging," said Majadle following the cabinet vote. Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) was the only cabinet minister to vote against Majadle's appointment, completing the monthlong Israel Beiteinu Party's opposition to the move. "I have no problem with an Arab minister...I have a problem with the way it has been done," said Lieberman. "His appointment is a blatantly political move to help [Labor Party Chairman Amir] Peretz with the primaries." Peretz said that Lieberman's vote exposed "the truth about Lieberman's racist views." Arab parties also slammed Majadle for joining the government, arguing that because the appointment was based on political motives, it undermined the struggle against racism. "The [appointment] gives a seal of approval to the policy of racial discrimination against Arabs," said a statement released by the Balad Party. Hadash Chairman Muhammad Barakei issued a similarly worded statement, adding that all the Arab parties would vote against the appointment in the Knesset vote. While Israel Beiteinu and the Arab parties slammed the appointment, Labor Party MKs said they were proud that the first Arab minister came from the Labor Party. "I see this as a historic and important step toward equality and promoting peace in the region," said Peretz following the cabinet vote. "This is a historic move that will promote the partnership and brotherhood between Jews and Arabs," said Labor Faction Whip Yoram Marciano. "His appointment is a response to the racist statements by Avigdor Lieberman and Israel Beiteinu in recent weeks." MK Nadia Hilu (Labor) added that the Labor Party had advanced "equality for the Arab population." Majadle has served as a Knesset member since Burg left the 16th Knesset on June 28, 2004. He was reelected to the 17th Knesset as the 19th seat on the Labor Party's list, representing the Arab sector. During his two terms as an MK he has served as the head of the Knesset's Committee on the Interior and Environment. In that role, he has passed half a dozen bills to promote environmental issues, most notably the Clear Air Law, which set strict sanctions for factory emissions. He also passed a law which set two annual dates for environmental awareness in Israel. Majadle also worked to pass laws intended to improve the quality of life in the Arab sector. Two weeks ago, he passed a law that established an NIS 8 million academy for the study of the Arabic language.