Will any partners be found for Ayman Odeh?

The data is clear: When the voting percentage in Arab society is equal to that of Jewish society in general elections, the government of the Right in Israel will fall.

ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
For four years now, I have been waiting for Ayman Odeh. I have waited for him to dare. Waited for him to lead. Waited for him to fulfill his unique potential and become the leader who changes politics in Israel by connecting Arab society to the centers of power and government influence. For the past four years he has done a “Yemenite Step” dance, one step forward and two steps backwards, with his destiny. As he himself noted, responding to the question from Nahum Barnea, “For the first term, I just listened and listened, now I want to lead.” Four years have passed, during which Ayman behaved like a leader running away from his own rank and file.
Again and again he looked over his shoulder and panicked at what the rest of the members of his list in Hadash and the other Arab parties might say. Over and over he looked at “the Zionist parties” with suspicion and declared “there is no partner.” Now, we can celebrate – he is looking at his people, the Palestinian-Arab people of Israel and finally, finally, he is connecting with their clear collective will “to move from politics of protest to politics of influence,” as Ayman Odeh articulated so precisely in the August 23, 2019 interview with Nahum Barnea (Weekend Magazine, Yediot Aharonot).
In the last two years, we have repeatedly seen a very prominent piece of data in studies and in surveys – more than 60% of Arab citizens of Israel want the party they vote for to be in a governing coalition. They want to be partners in decision-making about their own future. They want to sit at the government table rather than shout from the margins of the Knesset. In the last elections, they also decided, for the most part, not to vote. Why vote for someone who has no influence? They said this and stayed home while Netanyahu rubbed his hands together with obvious pleasure. His plan was working very well: He would make Israeli democracy disgusting, and they would not want to participate in it. And the result – Netanyahu and the right-wing continue to govern. And Arab politics, directly and indirectly, serve this government.
The data is clear: When the voting percentage in Arab society is equal to that of Jewish society in general elections, the government of the Right in Israel will fall.
Another piece of data: In municipal elections, when the Arab citizens of Israel feel that their votes directly influence their lives, they in fact do go out to vote, and in percentages even higher than Jewish society (about 85%). It is about time that Ayman Odeh begins the journey he was meant for – to connect his people to the government in Israel, to active, influential citizenship, to transform 20% of Israeli citizens into a determining influence on what is happening in our shared nation. Their numbers are greater than the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and greater than religious Zionists. Those two groups were the ones that determined the actions of the government in many areas in the last decade. Ayman Odeh has started the journey that may change all of this.
It will not be easy, because immediately and very expectedly, his outstretched hand was rejected by both Arabs and Jews. On the Jewish side, the ostensible alternative to the current government, Blue and White, managed to come together in the “cockpit” for the occasion to contemptuous reject the idea that Arabs might serve in their government. (Just for this accomplishment Ayman deserves a medal from the generals.) The votes of Arabs? Sure, but not their representation. And on the Arab side, there was an immediate alignment of everyone, beginning from members of Ayman Odeh’s own party, Hadash, through Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al, UAL and, of course, Balad. Here too, the disputes and the arguments ended and there was consensus – Ayman Odeh is delusional, his declaration harms us.
And therefore the real question is if partners can be found for Ayman Odeh when he has declared “I am a partner.”
THE PARTNERS need to come from both societies: On the Jewish side, Meretz and the Democratic Union must declare: We are your partners. Just like you, Ayman Odeh, broke through your society’s political paradigm, moving from politics of protest to politics of influence, we will break through our own political paradigm – from the politics of patronizing representation to a politics of equal partnership. Not only one more Arab on a Jewish list.
We will make a commitment to a joint and equal list that will be built from the day after the elections. But this is not enough; Meretz must issue an announcement that in any coalition negotiations they will demand there be integration of the political representatives of Arab society in the government. And this, too, is not enough.
Meretz must commit that the five points defined by Ayman Odeh as conditions for entry into the government will also be its own conditions: political and government negotiations for the two-state solution and ending the occupation; eradication of crime and violence in Arab society; canceling the Nation-State Law; regularizing planning and construction in Arab society; and providing equitable responsiveness on topics of welfare and education.
And on the Arab side, the automatic resistance of Balad and even of UAL is clear to me. I wonder about Ahmed Tibi and Ta’al, and even more about Hadash. Ayman Odeh is walking a path paved by Tawfik Ziad, Tawfik Toubi and Emil Habibi before him, who knew how to lead to a connection with Jewish society, the peak of which was the connection with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, “the bone breaker” of the first Intifada. Without the Arab parties, Rabin would not have been able to form a government, to change the attitude toward Arab society and to enter peace agreements. Ayman Odeh’s declaration was received with great enthusiasm in Arab society because he is responding to what the public is asking for.
I hope and expect a change in the attitude of their leaders, from the High Follow-Up Committee through the heads of local authorities and on to the Knesset members from Hadash and Ta’al. Do not turn your back to your historic mission for the benefit of your people and for the benefit of our ability to live in a democratic Israel, establishing a shared and equal society for all of its citizens.
The younger generation of Arab society is integrated in Israeli society, in medicine and in education, in law and in human services, in hi-tech and in industry. The paradox of economic and employment partnerships alongside the experience of being second-class citizens is no longer acceptable to them. Ayman Odeh is seeking to break through and forge connections. This is unequivocally the future.
The only question is if the change will happen now so it can lead to dramatic results in the upcoming elections, or whether the immediate rejection of Jewish and Arab politicians alike will find Arabs again staying at home in the do-over 2019 elections.
The writer is CEO of Givat Haviva – the Center for a Shared Society.