A rift appeared to be growing Wednesday between different factions in the predominantly Arab Joint List party, following moves by MK Mansour Abbas, the leader of its Islamic religious faction Ra’am, to improve ties with the Israeli right wing and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Abbas has recently been seen to be enjoying friendly relations with Netanyahu and his Likud party, and has hinted he could support the prime minister in various future votes — including backing a law granting him immunity from prosecution in three ongoing corruption court cases — if Netanyahu takes care of his constituents’ interests. He has urged his party not to automatically align with the left wing over the right.
Netanyahu, who has based several election campaigns on assailing the left for being prepared to consider cooperation with the Joint List, has sought to downplay the ties with Abbas, saying last week: “I will not rely on the Joint List, because they are supporters of terror.”
But Abbas has persisted in his new strategy, and on Tuesday night gave an unprecedented interview to the right-wing, staunchly pro-Netanyahu Channel 20 network, slamming his own party for failing to use its parliamentary power to collaborate with Zionist parties and secure much-needed funds and reforms to benefit Arab Israeli society.
“If the Joint List goes on the path I am presenting, the Joint List has a chance of continuing to exist,” Abbas said in the interview. “If the Joint List repeats the same mistakes and stances that don’t help Arab society, it loses its justification for existing.”
On Wednesday, Mtanes Shihadeh — leader of the Joint List’s secular, Arab nationalist Balad faction — came out against him.
“It is no wonder that MK Mansour Abbas has chosen the mouthpiece of Netanyahu and the extreme right (Channel 20) to announce his departure from the Joint List,” Shihadeh tweeted. “An authentic way to serve Bibi. MK Abbas isn’t worthy of leadership. We will take it from here.”
While Joint List leader Ayman Odeh has not commented on the controversy, a member of his socialist Hadash faction assailed Abbas on Wednesday.
“I feel embarrassed that there is still someone who believes they can get something good out of Netanyahu,” MK Aida Touma-Sliman told Radio 103FM. “We don’t need to ingratiate the fascist right wing to get our rights. It’s unforgivable.”
Abbas himself told Radio 103FM on Wednesday that he wasn’t quitting the Joint List, and said that his openness to new collaborations didn’t mean he was compromising on his ideology.