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Rebel Ra’am, Meretz MKs bow out of their parties after turbulent stints

Mazen Ghanaim to leave national politics and become mayor of Sakhnin; Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi not ruling out run with different party in coming vote

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (L) speaks with Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (L) speaks with Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dissident coalition lawmakers Mazen Ghanaim (Ra’am) and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (Meretz) will both part ways with their parties before the upcoming Knesset elections, with Ghanaim leaving national politics altogether, the two MKs said on Tuesday.

Both faced pressure to quit after voting against several key coalition bills, including a measure to renew the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank.

A spokesperson for Rinawie Zoabi confirmed she did not intend to compete for a seat with her soon-to-be ex-colleagues in Meretz. But the spokesperson said Rinawie Zoabi was still open to the possibility of running with another faction, such as the Joint List bloc of Arab parties.

“But as of now, there have yet to be any serious talks,” the spokesperson said.

In an interview with the Makan public broadcaster on Tuesday, Rinawie Zoabi said she had nothing to be ashamed of from her time in the Knesset, which saw her become a coalition headache.

“I’m proud of myself, I was the hardest rock in the coalition,” she said.

Rinawie Zoabi was recruited before the previous election by Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz. But the union never really took off, as Rinawie Zoabi had significant qualms about being part of the ruling coalition over its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

She was tapped at one point to become the next Israeli consul general in Shanghai in a deal meant to keep her out of the Knesset, but the agreement fell through last month amid her break with the coalition.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim speaks during a Knesset committee meeting on October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ghanaim’s decision was expected as he is planning to run again for mayor of his town of Sakhnin, a position which he held from 2008-2018.

“I will not run in the upcoming Knesset elections. This is a decision I made a long time ago, and I do not regret not resigning earlier,” he told the Ynet news site, referring to calls for him to step down.

Ghanaim, a popular former soccer player, likely played a key role in securing Ra’am’s entry into the Knesset in March 2021, in part thanks to the vote in Sakhnin where the Islamist party received nearly 10,000 ballots.

However, Ghanaim was not a natural fit in the party, having previously been a member of the Arab nationalist Balad faction.

Ra’am party leader MK Mansour Abbas speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“I return to Sakhnin strengthened, it was a first-class professional experience,” Ghanaim told Ynet. “There is mutual respect between me and the members of Ra’am, and we will part ways on good terms.”

“Ghanaim is a respectable man, but did not fit our party,” a member of Ra’am’s Shura Council — the party’s Islamic steering committee — told Ynet. “We want to be part of the government and the coalition, with discipline. Apparently, it was too much for him. We expect a politician to go with us to the end, but he’s leaving. We all knew it would happen.”

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