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Arab Israeli MKs skip Zelensky’s Knesset speech: ‘NATO imposed this war’

Only Ra’am’s Walid Taha attends Ukrainian president’s address to the Knesset; no Joint List MKs present, with some refusing to condemn Russian invasion

Joint List party chairman MK Ayman Odeh attends an Internal Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party chairman MK Ayman Odeh attends an Internal Security Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two Arab Israeli parties chose to snub Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the Knesset on Sunday night, with only one Arab lawmaker out of their 10 MKs showing up.

Joint List chief Ayman Odeh skipped the speech, as did the two other lawmakers from his Hadash faction, party officials said. A spokesperson for Odeh did not respond to a request for comment.

“Our position is that NATO and its leader America imposed this war,” said Mansour Dahamsheh, the Hadash party’s secretary-general, in a phone call with The Times of Israel.

Since the 1990s, several former Soviet states have joined the alliance, which Russia claims was a provocation and a threat to its national security. Moscow has demanded that Ukraine forswear joining NATO as a condition for ending its invasion.

Zelensky addressed the Knesset by Zoom on Sunday night in a speech critical of Israeli policy toward the Russian invasion. In remarks that repeatedly invoked the Holocaust, Zelensky pleaded with lawmakers to do more for Ukrainians, including providing advanced weaponry and air defense systems to Kyiv.

The vast majority of Israeli lawmakers turned up, with some even patching in from Indonesia and France. Arab lawmakers from Zionist parties — such as Labor’s Ibtisam Mara’ana Menuhin — also showed. Only the Arab parties skipped the Ukrainian leader’s speech.

The Joint List’s Ta’al faction’s two parliamentarians — Ahmad Tibi and Osama Sa’adi — watched on Channel 12, rather than join the Zoom, a Ta’al party spokesperson said. Nor was Balad’s sole MK, Sami Abou Shehadeh, in attendance.

Knesset Members Osama Saadi (R) and Ahmad Tibi (L) attend a Knesset committee meeting on September 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Only Ra’am parliamentarian Walid Taha joined the Zoom conference from the Islamist party. Party leader Mansour Abbas was speaking at a conference in Haifa at the same time as the speech. A spokesperson for the Ra’am faction did not respond to a request for comment.

The united Joint List was once the standard-bearer of the Arab Israeli community in the Knesset. But Ra’am broke off from it last year and successfully joined the governing coalition, leaving the remaining three factions in the opposition.

The most virulent opposition to Zelensky’s speech came from the Hadash party. The hard-left Communist party historically had ties to the Soviet Union, with many members studying or working in the bloc.

“Very sad that good leftists are being deceived after false propaganda — and that they even expect my friends and me to toe the line with the lies being fed to us,” Hadash lawmaker Ofer Cassif said on Twitter.

“I do not take sides in unnecessary wars that harm innocent civilians, strengthen those in power, and enrich the lords of war,” added Cassif, the party’s sole Jewish parliamentarian.

Hadash’s decision to boycott sparked widespread criticism, including from fellow leftists.

“Nothing can justify boycotting the speech of a democratically elected leader who is representing people under savage attack by a totalitarian nuclear power,” left-wing human rights attorney Michael Sfard wrote in a tweet.

In 2017, Hadash lawmakers drew criticism for declining to condemn Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad by name after his regime used chemical weapons against civilians. Some party members even praised Assad’s conquest of rebel-held areas during the Syrian Civil War.

“My heart aches for the children murdered in Syria, just as it aches over the images of children murdered in Yemen or Gaza,” Odeh said, without directly pointing out the Assad regime was behind their deaths.

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