Ayman Odeh chose to show solidarity with a terrorist - editorial

Who is the person Ayman Odeh wants to be associated with?

HADASH MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List, speaks at the Knesset in this file photo. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
HADASH MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint Arab List, speaks at the Knesset in this file photo.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In March, just after the last election, we wrote here about the need for Israel to rethink its approach to its Arab citizens.
Joining hands in combating violence, poverty and advancing welfare is a shared interest for Jews and Arabs, we wrote at the time, adding that such an initiative can be undertaken without undermining the character of the Jewish state. We highlighted Joint List leader Ayman Odeh’s historic declaration last August when he said the Joint List is prepared to take part in the leadership of the country to advance its Arab citizens. We mentioned how he had delivered on his promise when the party recommended to the president to give Blue and White leader Benny Gantz the mandate to form a coalition.
Sadly, on Thursday, Odeh went back to being the kind of Arab politician Israelis have known since inception – one who puts his solidarity with the Palestinians before what is important to his voters and constituents. He did this by participating in an event with a known terrorist who works and calls for the destruction of the state of which he says he wants to be a part.
In a teleconference press interview, senior Hamas official Saleh Arouri spoke alongside Fatah official Jibril Rajoub. Arouri said: “We will lead our battle together under the flag of Palestine to achieve an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders and solving the issue of the refugees on the basis of international resolutions.”
What Odeh did is not just disappointing, it is also counterproductive. The people who voted for Odeh’s Joint List, and helped it obtain 15 seats in the Knesset, did not cast their ballot so the leader of the party could participate in conferences with known terrorists. They want him and his fellow Knesset members to work to improve their lives: to create jobs, to secure funding to upgrade infrastructure – roads, schools, hospitals and more – and to steer their community through the economic and health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.
Let’s not forget that Arouri is one of the founding commanders of the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, and is said to be one of the key people – from his home in Turkey – trying to promote terrorist attacks in the West Bank. The US State Department has put a $5 million reward for anyone who provides information that leads to his capture.
This is the person Odeh wants to be associated with? A known terrorist behind dozens of attacks against Israel who is wanted by the IDF and the US?
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) said he would not tolerate an MK participating in “an event in support of terror with the worst of Israel’s enemies.”
It is unclear what Levin can actually do, but Odeh does need to decide where he stands and who he is as a lawmaker and a citizen of the State of Israel. He can, and should, of course, be able to openly show solidarity with the Palestinian people and also criticize Israel – all day and all night if he’d like – for its actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But, participating in a conference with a known terrorist like Arouri though is a line that Odeh should have known not to cross.
Israel has a long way to go for its Arab citizens to feel like they are treated as equals, and for the words of the declaration of independence, which called for coexistence in this land, to come true.
Arabs needs to be seen as equal citizens and be treated as equal citizens. For too long Arab-Israelis have been demonized and portrayed as a fifth column. They have been spoken about by the Likud and Blue and White as illegitimate political partners.
What Odeh did is wrong, but what Israel is doing is also not helping. If we want Arabs to stand with Israel and not with Hamas, they have to feel like everyone here has a shared destiny. That has yet to happen.