The head of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List accused both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump of using “race-baiting tactics” in order to win elections in their respective countries, in an op-ed Saturday in The New York Times.
MK Ayman Odeh, who has headed the Joint List — a faction comprising Israel’s Arab parties — since 2015, wrote that both Netanyahu and Trump subscribe to the “political philosophy” of “power through hate and fear,” likening the latter’s ban on “refugees and Muslims from entering the United States” to a law passed in the Knesset last week legalizing unauthorized settlement outposts on private Palestinian land, which allows “Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians.”
In the article, titled “Israel Bulldozes Democracy,” Odeh focused much of his argument on what he called the “government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.” He noted that Israel’s Arab citizens constitute one-fifth of the country’s population yet hold only 2.5 percent of the country’s land; as well as a failure to establish any new Arab cities since the country’s founding, despite having built hundreds of new communities for Jews.
In addition to not building new cities and towns for Israeli Arabs, Odeh wrote, the state refuses to grant permits for new construction in existing communities, forcing Arab citizens to build new homes illegally and as a result “live under the shadow of demolition orders from the state” as “residents never know when the police will come to evict them and bulldoze their homes.”
According to Odeh, Netanyahu has used “discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel” in the form of housing policy as a “political bludgeon,” forcing Israeli Arabs to live in a “Kafkaesque” situation in which the “state refuses to create municipal plans to accommodate growing communities, and instead destroys homes that are built without permits it makes impossible to obtain.”
Odeh illustrated this dynamic through the current situation of Bedouin in the Negev, many of whom live in unrecognized villages that the state has threatened to destroy, such as Umm al-Hiran, where home demolitions last month led to deadly clashes in which Odeh himself was injured.
He implored the government to “meet the housing needs of Arab communities” by imposing a two-year moratorium on the destruction of illegally constructed homes. Odeh also called on left-wing Jewish Israeli parties to work with his Joint List “to build a principled opposition strong enough to overpower the politics of hate and fear,” saying that those parties — Labor in particular — “will not regain power without cooperating with Arab parties.”