Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of narrow “political scheming” over the suspension of three Arab MKs for meeting with the families of terrorists. But he also hinted that his colleagues may have erred in holding the meeting and in referring to the terrorists, who were all killed while carrying out attacks, as martyrs.

The lawmakers were suspended by the Knesset Ethics Committee on Monday, with Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas receiving four-month bans and Jamal Zahalka receiving a two-month injunction. All three are members of Balad, one of three parties recently united under Odeh’s Joint List.

Netanyahu, said Odeh in an address Tuesday at the Jerusalem Press Club, sees the Arab minority as a threat — not to the Jewish character of the State of Israel, but to the prime minister’s control over the government.

The Joint List leader said Netanyahu learned about the political force the Arab minority constitutes, among other times, when he won the 1996 general election by just 30,000 votes over Shimon Peres.

Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)

Israeli Arab MKs meet with families of Palestinian terrorists, February 2, 2016 (Palestinian Media Watch)

“He understands that Arabs have the power to change the outcome of an election,” said Odeh, adding that “if we [the Arabs] were to be a legitimate force, then he would always have to convince 70% of the Jewish population to keep his regime.”

Unwise move?

Without clearly condemning last Tuesday’s meeting, Odeh hinted that it may have been unwise from a political perspective.

“There are some instances that require a thoughtful approach,” Odeh said. “This is an important thing in politics. At least so that certain actors who are waiting for a mistake don’t take advantage.”

The Joint List leader, who said he was not invited to the meeting with the terrorists’ families, held firm to his party’s position that none of the three MKs was there to legitimize terrorism. Rather, he said, the meeting was a humanitarian act to help the families negotiate the conditions set by the Israeli authorities for the return of their children’s bodies.

Israel at times holds on to the bodies of terrorists killed during attacks on Israelis, handing them over only once the families agree to low-key funerals. The measure is aimed at preventing large protests that could lead to riots.

Joint (Arab) List members Jamal Zahalka (left), Basel Ghattas (center) and Hanin Zoabi (right) at the weekly Joint (Arab) List meeting at the Knesset, on February 8, 2016. On January 2, the trio met with the families of Palestinian terrorists, prompting a political outcry. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint (Arab) List members Jamal Zahalka (left), Basel Ghattas (center) and Hanin Zoabi (right) at the weekly Joint (Arab) List meeting at the Knesset, on February 8, 2016. On January 2, the trio met with the families of Palestinian terrorists, prompting a political outcry. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The essence of the controversy over the meeting, Odeh claimed, was whether or not the Arab MKs had stood for a minute’s silence in support of the terrorists.

Echoing the explanation given by Zahalka, Odeh said that there was no minute of silence in support of the terrorists. Rather, the Arab MKs stood silent for the reading of the fatiha prayer, which Odeh argued is said by Muslims for all people who have died, whether you agree or disagree with their actions.

In addition to the moment of silence, however, some critics of the meeting said that the Arab MKs had referred to the terrorists as martyrs. Although Zahalka denied this, the other two MKs at the meeting continue to openly call the attackers martyrs — Ghattas in an interview with Channel 10 and Zoabi on her official Facebook page.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether the Joint List leader would himself refer to slain terrorists as martyrs, Odeh said that he would never use such a descriptor for terrorists.

“Perhaps some people in my party have used that word [martyr]. But I have never, nor will you ever hear me use that word.”

Odeh described the suspension of the three MKS as analogous to events in ancient Greek history. “The Athenian parliament collapsed when members of parliament got the power to depose other members,” he said. “It’s the people’s job to choose their leaders. And it is the people who should decide to take them out.”