Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh said on Tuesday that in his younger years he understood, “finally, to what degree the Holocaust is the Jewish people’s watershed event.”
Odeh, the soft-spoken leader of a list of MKs comprised of communist faction Hadash as well as nationalistic parties United Arab List and Balad and the Islamist party the Islamic Movement, said in a Channel 2 interview that he “visited all the museums, met with Holocaust survivors, and wonder[ed] how it is that of all people, the Jews accept a reality of persecuting a minority living in their midst.”
The Joint (Arab) List leader also recounted many incidents of being questioned by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) in his youth. “This brought me to a very difficult psychological state, to a state of paranoia,” he recalled, teary-eyed. “I remember I used to get off a bus and if there was someone sitting in the station I remember thinking maybe they were from Shin Bet and came for me.”
The leader of what has become a formidable political force and the third largest party in the new Knesset after Likud and Zionist Union, Odeh defined Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman — who regularly accuses Arab politicians of being a fifth column and representing terrorist groups — as “a Mark of Cain on the forehead of Israeli society.” Odeh, usually composed and calm, admitted that some of his exchanges with Liberman “made me very angry, almost full of rage.”
He added that it took him a long time to realize that despite all their military victories, Jewish Israelis still feared the Arab minority in their midst. “My goal is that Jews feel safe in their country,” he said.
When asked whether his vision of an equal state threatens its Jewish majority, Odeh answered that “[Jews] are 80% [of the population], you are strong, internalize it already.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday apologized to Arab citizens of Israel for comments he made about their voting turnout on Election Day, which were sharply criticized as being racist and offensive to the community. The apology was met with enthusiastic applause from the Arab representatives, several of whom embraced him after the statement.
However, Odeh’s Joint (Arab) List, which swept into the Knesset with 13 seats last week, rejected Netanyahu’s overture and said it will continue to campaign on behalf of the Arab community, Channel 2 reported. According to a statement from the Joint (Arab) List, “The racism of Netanyahu and his government will not end with the inciting statement that he distributed during the elections.”
Odeh called the apology a duplicitous “flip-flop.” So long as Netanyahu “advances racist legislation… and does not promote real equality” for Israel’s Arabs, said the incoming MK, the prime minister’s apology would not be acceptable or credible.
Members of the Joint (Arab) List were not invited to the event in which Netanyahu issued his apology.
But a contingent of parliamentarians from the party was invited to Ramallah Tuesday, where they met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a post-election commendation.
Odeh, together with Masud Ganaim, Jamal Zahalka and Osama Sa’adi, met with Abbas and praised him for his commitment to Palestinian ideals and successes on the international stage.
Abbas in turn congratulated the lawmakers for their achievement and discussed recent political developments in the region, the Wafa news agency reported.
Starting Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin began holding consultations with representatives of each political party that won seats in the Knesset to hear their recommendations regarding which party leader is to be given a first shot at forming a coalition.
A total of 67 MKs gave their support for Netanyahu to lead the government and Rivlin is expected to formally task him with assembling a coalition later this week.