Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem on Sunday criticized Arab Knesset members for their role in recent violent demonstrations, saying in two separate interviews to the Israeli media that their actions were detrimental to the Arab community.
“I blame the leaders; they are destroying our future, they are destroying coexistence,” Salem, the Muslim mayor of Israel’s largest Arab city, told Army Radio.
He said that while he disapproves of Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount, the Israeli Arab leadership must make their voices heard in an appropriate manner.
“We need to find a way to live together. We cannot fight like this. We are damaging ourselves,” he told Israel’s Walla website site.
A demonstration in Nazareth turned violent Thursday night as protesters clashed with security forces. Over 200 people took part in the protest, according to police estimates, and it descended into rioting when protesters set fire to tires and garbage cans and hurled stones at police.
Salem told Army Radio that he saw Joint (Arab) List chair Ayman Odeh at the protest, and told him to leave. “I said to him, get out of here — I don’t need to see you in Nazareth.”
This is not the first time Salem has gone head to head with the Israel’s Arab leadership by opposing mass demonstrations in his city.
During the Israel’s July 2014 military operation in Gaza, Salem spoke out against the spread of demonstrations and violent protests in Arab towns and villages.
“Commerce, economy and tourism in the city of Nazareth will be damaged after such events,” the mayor said at the time to Kul Al-Arab, Israel’s most widely-read Arabic language daily. “Tourists will think a hundred times before visiting the city. Patriotic positions are not [expressed] in such a manner.”
Salem’s remarks were met with scorn by local branches of the Arab political parties. The Nazareth chapter of Balad, a secular Arab nationalist party that is now part of the Joint List, called his comments “miserable” and “dangerous,” and demanded an apology. Hadash, a socialist party that also forms part of the Joint List, condemned Salem for exonerating the Netanyahu government and “blaming Arab leaders for what had happened.”
Hanin Zoabi, the controversial Joint List MK who lost Nazareth’s municipal elections to Salem last year, called his comments “irresponsible and unpatriotic for a person wishing to fulfill his official leadership role toward his city.”
“This is Israeli language, not Palestinian language,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday, “and we will never recognize it, as Palestinians.”
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.