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Ra’am leader said to face internal pushback after urging political cooperation

Activists leave WhatsApp group, with some seemingly angered Abbas didn’t use term ‘Palestinians’ in primetime speech; an earlier Arabic speech had stressed Palestinian nationalism

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at a press conference in the northern city of Nazareth on April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas at a press conference in the northern city of Nazareth on April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas was reported to face internal pushback Friday after a speech in which he called for Jewish-Arab political cooperation in the wake of last month’s general elections that have positioned his Islamist party as a potential kingmaker.

According to Channel 12 news, numerous Ra’am activists left a WhatsApp group for party members following Abbas’s primetime Hebrew-language speech Thursday, including former MK Masud Ganaim.

Much of the criticism was apparently over Abbas not using the term Palestinians in the speech, in which he called for Jewish parties not to boycott Ra’am, though the report noted it could not be determined why the activists left the group.

In his address, the Ra’am leader described himself thus: “My name is Mansour Abbas, a proud Muslim and Arab, and a citizen of the state of Israel. I am the leader of the largest and most senior movement in Arab society.” He did not refer to himself or to others as Palestinians, and did not use the word “Palestinian” in his speech.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas gives a speech in the northern city of Nazareth, on April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“Arab Israelis? I didn’t know that Israel had Arabs… what I know is that there are Palestinians in Israel,” Ganaim wrote in the WhatsApp group before leaving,

Many Arab Israelis define themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, rather than fully embrace the Israeli identity.

Asked for a response, Ganaim refused to address Abbas’s speech, while saying he left the group because it had been set up specifically for the March 23 election, which was now over. He said his remarks were directed at an activist who described himself as Arab Israeli.

“I told him there is no such thing as Arab Israeli. We are Palestinian Arabs,” Ganaim told the network.

Then Joint List MK Masud Ganaim at a Knesset committee meeting on June 8, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defending Abbas was Sheikh Kamel Rayan, a senior official in the southern branch of the Islamic Movement, which Ra’am is affiliated with.

“There are those who talk about Palestinian, Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Gaza, and there are those who work night and day for Palestine, Al-Quds and Gaza, and there is a gap between those who do (us) and those who talk (them),” Rayan wrote on Facebook.

He added: “Palestine as a nation and land is in our hearts and eyes.”

Meanwhile, Channel 12 noted that a speech Abbas made in Arabic earlier this week to party members was markedly different in tone and content from Thursday’s address, and far more geared to satisfy Palestinian nationalism.

“We stand humbly before our nation and dear Arab Palestinian society that lived the Nakba and stuck to this land and maintained its identity,” Abbas said then. Nakba, or catastrophe in Arabic, is a term used by Arabs to refer to Israel’s founding.

“They conquered our hearts and the heart of the nation as a whole. Thanks to them Palestine didn’t remain just a memory,” Abbas said.

He added: “Our goal is to continue to strengthen this devotion, presence and strength until this select team, from the sons of the nation, will be the crown in the jewel of the Arabic Islamic nation. Dear brothers, it is about this society we speak and for which we work.”

Earlier Friday, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich reiterated his far-right party will not sit in a government that is dependent on any support from Abbas and Ra’am, likely further limiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s options for forming a new coalition.

A report Thursday said Smotrich refused to take a phone call from Netanyahu after Abbas’s speech, enraged at what he saw as an attempt by the premier’s Likud party to “whitewash” Ra’am.

Abbas, whose Islamist party won four seats in the Knesset, has emerged as an unlikely possible kingmaker after the inconclusive election on March 23. Though he has expressed willingness to partner with either Netanyahu or his rivals — whichever offered a better deal benefiting Arab Israelis — he has yet to endorse a candidate.

Ra’am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark, crowning the next premier. But right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party’s support due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.

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