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Abbas to Kahana: Accepting coexistence out of necessity isn’t genuine tolerance

MK had said he would choose to ship Arabs to Switzerland if it were possible, but knows it’s not; Ra’am chief responds: ‘We must choose to live together’

Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas arrives at a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, June 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ra'am party leader Mansour Abbas arrives at a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, June 12, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Jews and Arabs in Israel need to choose to coexist rather than begrudgingly accept they must to live together on the same land, Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas said Wednesday.

Abbas offered the comments in measured criticism of fellow coalition member Matan Kahana, who stirred controversy earlier this week when he said he would send all of Israel’s Arabs to Europe if he could press a “button” to do so, adding that no such button exists.

In a radio interview Wednesday morning with Kan, Abbas said he understood that the bottom line of Kahana’s remarks had been that Jews and Arabs must accept that they need to live alongside each other.

“But that’s not genuine tolerance; that’s out of constraint,” Abbas said. “We need to change our way of thinking and live together in the Holy Land out of choice. I want everyone to reach the conclusion that we need to live together even if we had a button. What’s worrisome isn’t the buttons we don’t have but the buttons we do have — of violence and incitement — and that people are pushing them.

“Even if we have a button, we’re choosing not to push it out of choice and acceptance of the other side,” he added. “In my hand there is a button I have been pressing since I joined the coalition: one of partnership and tolerance, for all parts of society to arrive at a better place of acceptance to promote the common good.”

Kahana, the deputy religious affairs minister who is part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party, had drawn outrage on Tuesday after Kan aired a clip of him telling high school students a day earlier: “If there were a button you could press that would make all the Arabs disappear, that would send them on an express train to Switzerland — may they live amazing lives there, I wish them all the best in the world — I would press that button.”

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on February 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There is no such button,” he continued, speaking at a high school in the settlement of Efrat. “Apparently we were destined to exist here [together] on this land in some form.”

The remark was condemned by several lawmakers, including from Ra’am, which made history last year as the first Arab party to fully join an Israeli coalition. The unlikely coalition has recently appeared closer than ever to collapse, with a handful of MKs from several parties either defecting outright or refusing to back the coalition in plenum votes.

“Matan Kahana, we are here because this is our homeland,” responded Ra’am MK Walid Taha. “You, and those who think like you, will continue to bear your frustration because we simply won’t disappear.”

Kahana was quick to say he had used a poor choice of words to make the point that there was no alternative to coexistence.

Abbas added Wednesday that the current coalition must be preserved since it is based on “genuine tolerance.” He called on potential rebels (among these MK Mazen Ghanaim of his own party) to “carefully weigh what they can do to keep the button of partnership and tolerance active.”

Abbas said he wouldn’t call on anyone to resign from the Knesset, as some have demanded from Ghanaim and from rebel Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi: “The solution doesn’t have to be an ejection seat. The goal is clear to all: Everyone should do what they need to do to safeguard this process. Whoever wants to stay will stay, and whoever needs to leave will leave.”

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