Two lawmakers in the opposition Blue and White party boycotted a Saturday night rally that protested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for immunity from corruption charges and his party’s planned judicial reforms, due to the participation of the head of an Arab Israeli party.
Addressing tens of thousands of Israelis at a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv Museum on Saturday night, Hadash-Ta’al party chairman Ayman Odeh said, “I am here today because I believe that Jewish-Arab partnership is the only way to [achieve] hope and change. We [Arab Israeli citizens] alone cannot [enact change], but without us it is impossible. I am here today because I believe that without equality there is no democracy.”
Odeh had been a last-minute addition to the Saturday evening lineup after a phone call hours earlier with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, whose party was the primary organizer of the rally.
Moshe Ya’alon, Blue and White’s No. 3 and head of the relatively hawkish Telem faction within the centrist party, confirmed Sunday morning that Telem MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel decided not to attend the demonstration after Odeh was added to the list of speakers.
Speaking with Israel Radio, Ya’alon — a former MK and minister for Netanyahu’s Likud — said he had opposed inviting Odeh during discussions with party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, and that he would do so again the next time.
“As long as Hadash’s policy platform doesn’t acknowledge our right to exist here as the nation state of the Jewish people, I have no dialogue [with it] on the matter,” Ya’alon said. “I understand why Hauser and Hendel didn’t come, and unfortunately, the fact that Odeh went on stage caused Likud people who were on the way to turn around and drive away. I will oppose it the next time as well.”
Some within Blue and White even objected to the participation of officials from the Meretz party, fearing it would associate the protest too much with the left, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Odeh was the last party leader to speak at the rally, following Blue and White chair Gantz, Labor head Avi Gabbay and Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg.
Likud reacted to Odeh’s speech with a one-sentence statement: “Terror supporter Ayman Odeh spoke with the blessing of Lapid and Gantz, what a joke!”
Odeh on Sunday responded and threatened to sue Likud, telling Israel Radio: “I can file a libel lawsuit over that remark.”
Ya’alon also criticized Likud over the statement.
“The Blue and White party believes in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” he said. “We have a disagreement with Odeh about the ‘Jewish’ part, but we have an even bigger disagreement with Netanyahu over the ‘democratic’ part.
“To treat all Arabs as the same and to say, as Likud has said, that Ayman Odeh is a terrorist — that is something that should be said about Basel Ghattas or Hanin Zoabi,” he added, mentioning former firebrand lawmakers from the Balad party.
Ghattas is serving a jail term for smuggling cellphones to jailed Palestinian terror convicts. Zoabi called for the dissolution of the State of Israel and sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in bid to break Israel’s security blockade of Gaza.
According to Hadash-Ta’al officials, Odeh had been asked to speak earlier in the week, but by the time he had responded to the request, Blue and White organizers had rescinded the offer, leaving the rally with no participation from either of the Arab Israeli parties, Hadah-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad.. For its part, Blue and White claimed that Hadash-Ta’al had dragged its feet in responding, leaving party officials with no choice but to finalize the speakers list without Odeh on it, before the last-minute shift to include him.
Pending a hearing, Netanyahu is facing indictment for fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases, and bribery in one of them. The hearing was recently postponed until October.
The mass protest came amid reported plans by Likud lawmakers and Netanyahu to guarantee the premier immunity in multiple corruption cases, and pass legislation weakening the High Court of Justice so that it wouldn’t have the power to strike down efforts to protect him.
The opposition is hoping to create public pressure on MKs from Likud and other prospective coalition parties who they believe are uneasy with supporting such legislation.
With Netanyahu currently struggling to form even a 61-member majority coalition out of the 120 MKs, any single vote against an immunity push could be significant.