In a sign of the widening cracks in Arab Israeli politics, dissident Arab MK Mansour Abbas was heckled, jeered and chased away by demonstrators at a massive community protest on Friday.
Abbas sought to join the thousands of demonstrators in the northern city of Umm al-Fahm protesting against what they called the police’s failure to stem a rising tide of violence in Arab communities — only to be rebuffed by dozens of demonstrators calling for him to “get out.”
After some scuffles, Abbas’s aides removed him from the scene.
Abbas, who leads the conservative Islamist Ra’am party, has long made passing a plan to fight violence and organized crime among Arab Israelis a central legislative priority.
מפגינים קוראים לגרש את יו"ר רע"מ מנסור עבאס שהגיע להפגנה. כמה מתומכיו הבריחו אותו לחנות קרובה. ראש העיר סמיר מחאמיד ואנשי ציבור התערבו כדי למנוע חיכוך. pic.twitter.com/78HAiF4fMB
— Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) March 5, 2021
Abbas told Channel 12 that those who accosted him were political activists from the Joint List party and not residents of Umm al-Fahm.
He has sparked controversy among Arab Israelis due to his stated willingness to cross previously unthinkable red lines, such as voting to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution and perhaps even to prop up his future coalition.
He also caused anger when he pulled his Ra’am party out of the Joint List coalition of predominantly Arab parties.
The move has seen the Joint List, which won an unprecedented 15 seats in the last elections, now polling at around 8 seats.
Meanwhile, Ra’am is not expected to cross the election threshold. If the party does make it into parliament, its leader Abbas has refused to say who it might endorse for prime minister.
Abbas has said that in order to advance legislative priorities for the Arab community, he would even consider voting in favor of a law providing Netanyahu with immunity from prosecution in his corruption cases, or serve as a minister in a Likud-led government.
Eyewitnesses estimated that around 10,000 demonstrators participated in Friday’s protest, making it one of the largest protests so far this year.
Organized crime is largely seen as the engine of the spread of violence in Arab cities and towns. Arab Israelis blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations. Since the beginning of 2021, 22 Arabs have died violently inside Israel, according to the Abraham Initiatives nonprofit.
Netanyahu announced last week that his government will funnel NIS 150 million ($45 million) to combating violence in Arab communities. Arab politicians and civil society organizations — who had hoped for billions more — harshly criticized the plan as too little, too late.
Umm al-Fahm residents have been holding weekly demonstrations against violence and organized crime for nearly a month and a half. But this week’s turnout was notably higher, likely due to the accusations of police brutality following last week’s demonstration.
Investigators at the Justice Ministry on Sunday launched an inquiry into police officers’ conduct during last week’s protest when police fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons as they dispersed hundreds of demonstrators. At least 35 protesters were injured, including Joint List parliamentarian Yousef Jabareen and the city’s mayor. Arab Israeli officials accused police of racist behavior and using excessive force and have demanded an investigation.
The number of homicides among Jewish Israelis since 2016 has remained relatively constant: 38 in 2016, 44 in 2017, 35 in 2018, and 36 in 2019, according to the Israel Police.
Among Arabs, however, it has skyrocketed over that same period: 64 in 2016, 67 in 2017, 71 in 2018, 89 in 2019, and 96 in 2020.