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Joint List’s Odeh rips Ra’am for focus on internal affairs and ‘nothing else’

Head of Arab Israeli opposition party says his is the only Knesset faction ‘that works according to its conscience and for the benefit of the citizens’

Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, outside a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions seeking to disqualify his party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, outside a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on right-wing petitions seeking to disqualify his party from running in the September elections, on August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh tore into fellow Arab Israeli party Ra’am on Saturday night, accusing the coalition faction of abandoning issues important to the Arab community and focusing instead “only” on internal affairs.

“As citizens of this country, we need to talk about peace, occupation, democracy, the environment — and not just about municipal roads,” Odeh said in an interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” saying that Ra’am was failing Israel’s Arab community despite being a member of the ruling coalition.

“Jews are not asked why they talk about the settlements or the Gaza Strip, but the Arab in Israel is expected to only talk about internal issues,” Odeh charged. “The establishment has always wanted us to talk only about civil and economic rights and nothing else. A national home? Only for Jews, and I do not accept that. We are part of the people.”

Ra’am ran as part of the Joint List alliance in previous elections, but broke from it over Abbas’s willingness to work with then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu before the March election this year.

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.

Ra’am argues that it is now the only Arab party capable of advancing reforms to benefit the long-neglected Arab community in Israel and that the Joint List’s refusal to cooperate with successive coalitions has rendered it irrelevant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, and Ra’am leader MK Mansour Abbas, seated, at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the Knesset on June 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

The coalition agreement with Ra’am, whose support is critical to the existence of the government, includes tens of billions in funds and government development plans for Arab society, legalization of three Bedouin unrecognized villages, and an amendment to the controversial 2017 Kaminitz law, which targets illegal Arab construction.

But Odeh claimed Ra’am was neglecting its electorate by failing to take a clear stance on diplomatic and security issues.

“There is one faction in the Knesset that works according to its conscience and for the benefit of the citizens, and it is the Joint List,” he said.

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Odeh also slammed the government decision to involve the military and Shin Bet security service in a crackdown on violence in the Arab sector.

“I do not want the Shin Bet for the Arabs and the police for the Jews. We are not a security issue but a civilian one,” Odeh said.

Israeli Arabs protest against violence, organized crime and recent killings among their communities, in the Arab town of Majd al-Krum, northern Israel. October 3, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

He said that Ra’am must submit a realistic plan to deal with the violence “or resign” from the coalition.

Over the past few years, Arab Israelis have seen sharply rising violence: gang assassinations in broad daylight, gunfire at the homes of local mayors, and thousands of illegal, easily accessible guns.

Both government officials and civil society experts say the violence is the fruit of decades of state neglect. Over half of Arab Israelis live under the poverty line. Their towns and cities often have crumbling infrastructure, poor public services and few job prospects, leading some young people to collaborate with organized crime.

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