Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh said Saturday that efforts to safeguard Israeli democracy amid brewing initiatives by the incoming coalition to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution will only be possible when Jewish and Arab citizens work together.
Addressing tens of thousands of Israelis at a rally outside the Tel Aviv Museum on Saturday night, 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,” the Hadash-Ta’al chairman continued. “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. 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 chose to rescind the offer, leaving the rally with no participation from either of the Arab Israeli parties. 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 close the speakers list without Odeh on it, before the last-minute shift to include him.
אני נמצא כאן היום כי אני מאמין ששותפות ערבית יהודית זו הדרך היחידה לתקווה ולשינוי במדינה. אנחנו האזרחים הערבים אולי לא יכולים לבד אבל בלעדינו זה בלתי אפשרי. המאבק הזה שזור בשלום, בשוויון, בצדק החברתי. והוא דורש שותפות בין מנהיגים אמיצים. אני מוכן לשותפות הזו כדי לעשות את השינוי pic.twitter.com/Xxbkm2X7nT
— Ayman Odeh (@AyOdeh) May 25, 2019
While Hadash-Ta’al activists were present at the rally along with Odeh, the chairman of the Knesset’s other Arab-Israeli party, Ra’am-Balad, refused to attend. Mansour Abbas asserted that Arab-Israelis “are in no one’s pocket” and criticized Odeh for joining the other likely opposition parties on stage.
Toward the end of his prepared remarks, Odeh appeared to hint at a possible window for continued partnership between his faction and other opposition parties, which have traditionally refrained from working closely with one another. “As far as I’m concerned, this is supposed to be a partnership between the brave, between brave leaders,” he said. “I am prepared for this partnership in order to enact change.”
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.
Fresh off of last month’s electoral shellacking that saw his party drop from 24 to just six seats in the 21st Knesset, Gabbay told the crowd, “We now have a young generation for whom democracy is no longer self-evident.” He said democracy must be fought for “so that it will continue to be a part of their lives and a part of our lives.”
“These are not cries of ‘wolf,’ this is not the paranoia of leftists, it’s a real danger and this is a real struggle,” the Labor leader continued.
“We must together convince [Israelis] that immunity for politicians is a slippery slope; that after immunity for Netanyahu, there will also be immunity for the tycoons who support and are being supported by Netanyahu,” Gabbay added.
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.
Meretz chairwoman Zandberg began her speech by repeating the charges prepared by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit against Netanyahu.
“In front of our eyes, a bribery deal is unfolding: jobs in exchange for immunity,” she charged. “Israel will become an official apartheid state, simply because Netanyahu took bribes and is now trying to escape justice.”
Zandberg was referencing coalition talks between the Likud and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, in which the latter has insisted both on immunity for Netanyahu and legislative efforts to annex Israeli settlements, in an implicit quid-pro-quo.
“Instead of liberal democracy, seeking peace and rights, we will get a religious, messianic, Erdoganian dictatorship that… tramples our rights,” she said.
Tens of thousands of people attended the rally, which began shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night under the banner “Stopping the Immunity Law — A Defensive Shield for Democracy.” Many were wearing Turkish-style fez headgear.
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 won’t have the power to strike down efforts to protect him.
The opposition is hoping to create public pressure on MKs from the 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.