Facing dire polls, ex-Yisrael Beytenu MK Avidar looks to ally with Islamist Ra’am

Spokesman confirms report on talks by Channel 12, while Ra’am silent; Mansour Abbas rules out reunion with Joint List, rips Ayman Odeh

MKs Eli Avidar (left) and Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MKs Eli Avidar (left) and Mansour Abbas in the Knesset, June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar has been in touch with the Islamist Ra’am party about joining up for the November 1 vote.

Avidar, who rebelled against Yisrael Beytenu and the coalition on multiple occasions throughout its tenure, left Avigdor Liberman’s party and recently formed his own, under the name Israel Free and Democratic. However, no polls have put him anywhere near the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset.

Talks of a merger were first reported by Channel 12 on Saturday. A spokesman for Avidar confirmed the report but would give no further details. Ra’am did not comment.

A link-up between the sides would be a major twist underscoring Israel’s ongoing political confusion: Ra’am serves as the political branch of the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, while Avidar, a former member of a hawkish right-wing party, more recently gained popularity among some on the left for his support of nation-wide anti-Netanyahu protests in 2020-2021.

According to the network, Ra’am has not ruled out running with Avidar, but has yet to make a decision on whether to bring in a Jewish candidate. The report also noted that Avidar’s fierce opposition to Netanyahu could work against him, with Ra’am wanting to maintain the possibility of future cooperation with Likud.

Ra’am was also reportedly wary the move could hurt its ties with Avidar’s former boss, Yisrael Beytenu head Liberman.

MK Eli Avidar speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on August 15, 2022. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Television surveys this week gave Ra’am four to five seats in the coming election. The polls have also predicted further gridlock, with neither Netanyahu nor his rivals able to get a majority in the election, Israel’s fifth in under four years.

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas on Saturday ruled out reuniting with the Joint List alliance of predominantly Arab parties in the upcoming elections.

“It’s not on the agenda,” Abbas told Channel 12.

Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas leads a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset, June 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Seeming to throw further cold water on the move, Abbas tore into Joint List head Ayman Odeh when asked about the latter’s remark that the Ra’am leader was the current coalition’s “pet Arab.”

“In my opinion, this comes from frustration and a sense of failure,” Abbas said. “He has nothing more to contribute to the Arab community or politics generally.”

The Islamist Ra’am was previously one of several factions that comprise the Joint List, but decided to run alone in last year’s elections. It went on to join the broad power-sharing coalition, becoming the first Arab Israeli party to do so in decades, in a move strongly criticized by its former partners.

There have been rumblings about Ra’am and Joint List teaming up again in the November 1 elections amid concerns about possible low Arab turnout.

Earlier this month, a Channel 12 report claimed a close confidant of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had met with leaders of the Joint List in a bid to convince them to reunite with Ra’am.

Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh speaks at party headquarters, in the city of Shfar’am, on elections night, on March 23, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Asked Saturday about the reported meeting, Ra’am’s Abbas said he rejected any involvement of non-citizens in Israel’s elections and the Arab Israeli community.

“Ra’am wasn’t and won’t be part of any contact beyond the border, period,” he said.

Abbas also hit out at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the former premier and his Likud party of incitement for branding Ra’am and other Arab Knesset members “terror supporters.” He noted Likud’s widely-reported past efforts to get his support for a Netanyahu-led government, which Likud has adamantly denied.

“I have a lot of evidence,” Abbas said of his contacts with Likud. “I usually don’t discuss or reveal political discussions or correspondence, but Netanyahu continues to incite against us daily.”

“He is harming our democratic and civil rights to be partners and have an influence,” the Ra’am chief said.

Likud later put out a statement punching back at Ra’am, saying it “did not agree and will not agree” to include the party in government.

A combination image showing then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) casting his vote in the Knesset election in Jerusalem on March 23, 2021; and Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool; Flash90)

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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