Prime Minister Naftali Bennett postponed on Thursday night a planned trip to the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm the next morning, with the coalition’s Ra’am party claiming that the decision was due to the anniversary of the October 2000 riots in which 13 Arab Israeli demonstrators were killed in clashes with police at the start of the Second Intifada.
Bennett was scheduled to visit the Clalit HMO’s vaccination center in the northern town at 10 a.m. on Friday, accompanied by Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas and the Health Ministry’s coronavirus liaison for the Arab sector, Ayman Seif.
According to an Arabic statement released by Ra’am, Bennett postponed the trip due to “the proximity to memorial events for the October Riots.”
But in a bizarre development, Abbas subsequently issued his own Hebrew statement, refuting the claims of his party.
“I want to make it clear that the prime minister’s visit, which was planned for tomorrow in Umm al-Fahm and postponed to a later date, was aimed at promoting vaccines in Arab society.”
“The prime minister decided to cancel his visit after it became clear that this goal would not be achieved. Any attempt to tie the Prime Minister’s discretion to other reasons is unfounded and improper in my view,” Abbas said, rejecting his own party’s claim that the cancellation had to do with the October 2000 riots anniversary.
“The announcement issued by Ra’am regarding the postponement of the visit expressed [the author’s] position alone,” he added.
While Abbas is the head of Ra’am, the party also has an independent religious council that often stakes out positions that are more hawkish than those of its leader.
In October 2000, as the second Palestinian Second Intifada gained momentum in the West Bank, Arab Israelis took to the streets to protest the visit of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount — a move that angered Palestinian and Israeli Muslims and sparked the violence.
Over the course of several fateful days, Arab Israelis conducted violent protests that spread nationwide. Thirteen were killed in clashes with police, including with live fire — 12 Arab Israelis and one Palestinian. An Israeli Jew was killed when his car was stoned by Arab rioters.
An official government commission inquiry established a month later concluded that there had been no justification for the live fire, though no Israeli officer went on to be charged for the deaths.
Responding to the postponement of the visit, the opposition Likud party released a statement slamming Bennett for the “disgraceful” decision.
“There is no low bar that Bennett will not cross for the sake of his political survival that depends on Mansour Abbas,” the party of Benjamin Netanyahu said. “To cancel a visit because of the ‘memory of the martyrs’ is a disgrace that will not be forgotten.”
Following the criticism, Bennett’s spokesman released a statement also contradicting Ra’am’s claim that the visit had been canceled due to the October 2000 anniversary
“The postponement of the visit to the vaccination complex in Umm al-Fahm was due to expected demonstrations, as well as for security reasons. That is the reason, and that is all,” the statement said.
In joining the coalition when the new government was formed in June, Ra’am became the first Arab Israeli party to do so in decades and the first to be a crucial element in maintaining the government’s majority.
The fact that the current government, made up of an assortment of rightist, leftist and centrist parties, is dependent on the support of Islamist Ra’am, has been a key line of attack for Likud and other right-wing parties in the opposition, who claim Bennett is beholden to the whims of an anti-Zionist party, endangering Israel’s security (and ignoring the fact that Netanyahu, too, attempted to form a government dependent on Ra’am before being ousted from power).