Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas took harsh criticism from within his conservative Islamist party on Sunday for meeting with Lod mayor Yair Revivo following widespread civil unrest in Israel’s Arab-Jewish cities.
Abbas met the controversial mayor during a tour of the city, during which the Islamist also vowed to help rebuild the city’s synagogues, several of which were torched during numerous outbreaks of violence in recent days.
“It’s important, Yair, we have a very difficult mission — reviving relations between Jews and Arabs,” Abbas told Revivo as they visited a synagogue together.
Abbas has called for greater Arab-Jewish cooperation and integration over the past few months, including in his party’s bid to join, for the first time, a coalition of Zionist political parties.
But over the past week, Israel’s mixed cities have seen some of the worst ethnic violence between Israeli citizens for decades. Abbas and other Arab leaders have condemned the violence, seemingly to little avail.
Lod, in particular, has seen widespread clashes between Arab and Jewish Israelis. Several synagogues have been set ablaze, Arab mobs have set cars alight, roving bands of Jewish extremists have hurled stones at Arab Israelis, and one Arab resident of Lod was shot and killed by a Jewish Israeli in contested circumstances.
Abbas’s visit with Revivo on Sunday sparked anger within his own Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, of which Ra’am is the political wing. The Islamist group’s secretary-general, Ibrahim Hejazi, criticized the visit as “an individual, inappropriate, mistaken visit.”
“In recent years, Revivo has led a racist attack on our Arab people and the Arab presence in Lod,” Hejazi said.
Hejazi’s reproachful post was shared by several prominent members of Abbas’s party, including former MK Iman Khatib-Yassin. The Lod branch of the Islamic Movement also condemned the meeting.
Many Arab Israeli residents of Lod despise Revivo, a former Likud party election campaign chief who they say has incited against them and pursues policies that seek to expel them from the city.
The mayor has repeatedly said that Arab culture is inherently violent; in 2015, he told the Makor Rishon newspaper that an influx of religious Jews had “saved” Lod from becoming an Arab city.
“Lod would be an Arab city, controlling our only airport, with all that this implies,” Revivo said at the time, expressing gratitude for a wave of religious Jewish migration to Lod.
Abbas protested in a Facebook post that he had met the mayor “coincidentally,” and spontaneously accepted his invitation to visit a synagogue together. But he also defended meeting Revivo as important to calming the atmosphere in the tense city.
“And for those who attack me, saying that I met a settler, I say that I met him in his official capacity as the mayor of Lod. I met him because he represents the other side in the dispute,” Abbas said.
The internal dissent comes at a critical moment for Abbas, who hopes to lead his Ra’am faction to gains in the next Israeli government. It is a rare opportunity for an Arab Israeli party; none has been instrumental in establishing an Israeli government.
Abbas has pledged to establish a new paradigm in Arab Israeli politics, one that sees the long-marginalized community become influential decision-makers. That has included a willingness to sit with politicians many Arab Israelis believe are racists, such as right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His Arab critics call Abbas opportunistic and unprincipled for his willingness to sit with the far-right in coalition governments. He has said he is not siding with either the Netanyahu or anti-Netanyahu Knesset blocs, but rather seeks to partner with whoever will address the needs of his Arab constituents.