Fundamentally Freund: Why is the White House hosting an Arab extremist?

Cultivating a man such as Odeh, rather than seeking out the real moderates among Israel’s Arab population, is simply a tragic mistake.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint Arab List
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a move as outrageous as it is unprecedented, the leader of a radical Arab faction in the Knesset is making a firstof- its-kind, high-profile diplomatic visit to Washington this week.
Ignoring MK Ayman Odeh’s stellar record of extremism, the White House, State Department and a group of Reform rabbis will be rolling out the red carpet for him, as will civil rights leaders at the late Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Atlanta church. Of course, it is eminently possible that Odeh’s hosts are simply ignorant of his antics, and view his visit as a chance to nurture dialogue with Israeli Arabs. Perhaps that explains why philanthropist S. Daniel Abraham is reportedly organizing an event in Odeh’s honor.
But if that is the case, then they are sadly misinformed.
Cultivating a man such as Odeh, rather than seeking out the real moderates among Israel’s Arab population, is simply a tragic mistake.
After all, even the most superficial due diligence reveals the type of person that Odeh is and where his sympathies lie.
Just two months ago, in a radio interview on October 6 on Israel Army Radio, Odeh refused to condemn stone-throwing attacks against Israelis.
Asked by interviewer Razi Barkai if he considered rock attacks to be part of the armed struggle or a legitimate form of protest, Odeh replied: “I always blame the occupation for being guilty. I cannot tell the nation how to struggle, where and which target to throw the rock [at]. I do not put red lines on the Arab Palestinian nation,” he said.
Odeh’s remarks came just three weeks after 64-year-old Alexander Levlovitz was murdered on his way home from a Rosh Hashana celebration in a Palestinian stone-throwing attack in Jerusalem. After his car was hit by a barrage of rocks, Levlovitz lost control of the vehicle and crashed.
Two passengers were wounded in the attack.
Nonetheless, Odeh could not bring himself to muster even the token amount of moral courage needed to denounce such incidents.
Even when he does decry specific attacks, Odeh quickly turns the tables and puts the onus of responsibility on Israel rather than on those who perpetrate acts of terrorism.
After a Palestinian terrorist ran over two Israelis and then went on a stabbing spree in Gan Shmuel, near Hadera, wounding four others on October 11, Odeh said that while it was “heartbreaking” that some of the victims were children, “We are in this situation because of a terrible and evil regime. The government, and especially the individual leading it, is directly responsible for the current situation.”
But this kind of hateful rhetoric should hardly come as a surprise, given the types of people that Odeh hangs out with.
Earlier this year, he paid a visit to Palestinian terrorist mastermind Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in prison in connection with various lethal attacks that he organized against innocent Israelis.
After the meeting, Odeh gleefully described his sit-down with “the leader” on his Facebook page, calling it “exciting” and comparing the blood-thirsty Barghouti to Nelson Mandela.
“The time will come when we, together with Marwan, will walk the streets of ancient Jerusalem, liberated from the Occupation,” Odeh wrote.
And back in May of this year, Odeh attended a Nakba Day ceremony at Tel Aviv University bemoaning the establishment of the State of Israel.
As head of the Joint List in the Knesset, which Al Jazeera has described as bringing together factions “ranging in ideology from the Islamist to the communist,” Odeh is head of the third largest political party in the country.
Nonetheless, just because he is the most senior Israeli Arab politician at the moment does not in any way justify the embraces he will be receiving this week from Reform rabbis and senior Obama administration officials.
Indeed, other prominent Israeli Arabs have spoken out against Odeh and denounced him for causing irreparable damage to Jewish-Arab coexistence.
Last month, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam publicly berated Odeh during a live interview the latter was giving on Israel’s Channel 2 television, saying that he had “ruined this city, ruined everything,” by scaring Israeli Jews away from visiting the area. “You have destroyed the world! Get out of here!” Salam said.
In a radio interview that day, Salam added that, “This cannot go on. We must find a way to live together. We are all only hurting ourselves. The leaders are destroying coexistence, which is our future.”
Odeh’s record speaks for itself. He is a man who has consorted with terrorists, refused to deplore stone-throwing attacks against Israelis, and heads a Knesset faction that includes the likes of Haneen Zoabi, who has compared Israel to the Nazis.
Is this really the kind of person that should be invited to the White House? It is of course important to cultivate moderate forces among Israeli Arabs, but Odeh simply is not one of them. His actions and rhetoric belie any claim that he might make to such a mantle.
And they should definitely preclude him from being feted by those interested in peace.