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After Odeh's U.S. visit, the Joint List must step up its game

Ayman Odeh’s visit to the U.S. demonstrates that the Joint List needs to take a more central role in the global discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh at the rally against home demolitions, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, April 28, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh at the rally against home demolitions, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, April 28, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Ayman Odeh’s recent visit to the United States garnered much attention among American audiences. But back home, within his own community, the scant attention given to his visit was mostly critical. Various circles among Palestinian citizens of Israel had characterized Odeh’s visit as a politically futile and undermining exercise, while others made personal attacks claiming that he did not represent Palestinian public opinion and was only doing it for self-promotion.

Some of these criticisms were understandable, primarily because Odeh has garnered an international persona which has not yet been granted to him domestically. Contrary to how Foreign Policy magazine portrayed him in its list of 100 Global Thinkers, Odeh was not the architect of the Joint List. In the face of a raised electoral threshold, the Joint List was formed (and is arduously maintained) by a collective effort of parliamentary representatives, organizational members of the four different parties, civil society figures and activists, and of course, the Palestinian public that voted for them. As Jackie Khoury rightly wrote in Haaretz, “Foreign Policy magazine would have been more accurate if it had awarded the honor to the list headed by Ayman, rather than to Ayman.”

However, despite these criticisms, Odeh’s visit to the U.S. was arguably one of his most important acts since entering the Knesset this year. In the span of the last two weeks, Odeh managed to do what the Palestinian leadership in Israel failed to achieve in years: raising his community’s experiences and aspirations onto the international stage, and specifically the American political arena, in a highly visible and influential manner.

Ayman Odeh at the United Nations Headquarters with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. (Photo: Joint List spokesperson)

Ayman Odeh at the United Nations Headquarters with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. (Photo: Joint List spokesperson)

This was partly due to Odeh’s communication style and his passionate articulation of building a shared future and ending the occupation, which received a warm reception from left-wing American audiences. But this success was also due in large part to the platform of his Joint List, the self-proclaimed “democratic camp” of Israel’s political spectrum.

In fact, more than anything, Odeh’s visit revealed the need for the Joint List to conduct much more strident advocacy abroad. As American discussions on Israel and Palestine slowly open up to more divergent opinions, particularly within the American Jewish community, the Joint List has an obligation to place itself at the center of the world’s discourse around the conflict. No one is expecting Washington’s policy to change any time soon; but at the same time, the Palestinian community cannot play a marginal or isolationist role. It has to confront the powerful figures on their own turf.

This has become especially crucial as the space to combat discrimination and occupation are rapidly shrinking inside Israel and Palestine. The right wing has secured its dominance over Israel’s political sphere, with its discourse manifesting in public opinion and even judicial positions. Human rights organizations, most of which defend Palestinian rights in Israel and in the occupied territories, are facing heightened campaigns not only attacking their work and funding, but also the very safety of their members. Worst of all, Israelis and Palestinians are entering 2016 with no political horizon other than the so-called “status quo.” Both publics are simply hoping that things will not get worse; no one is expecting things to get better.

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against perceived changes to the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sakhalin, northern Israel, October 13, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

Palestinian citizens of Israel demonstrate against perceived changes to the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sakhalin, northern Israel, October 13, 2015. (Omar Sameer/Activestills.org)

These are enormous challenges that the Joint List needs to face. But the coalition itself is mired in numerous troubles, and has fallen short on many occasions when it should have played a more active role.

Personal conflicts strain the Joint List’s daily activities and long-term strategies. Disputes over political and ideological language are chronic, with each party criticizing the other for being too nationalist, too “Israeli,” too religious, too acquiescent, too aggressive, and so on. Many of its main supporters, Palestinian citizens, are more concerned about their day-to-day matters than political activism, with others seeing the List as an elitist group guided only by personal interests. These problems have often made it difficult for the Joint List to take clear and assertive positions, especially during moments of high tensions and violence. And even when it does, it cannot block discriminatory legislation in the Knesset, nor persuade the mainstream Jewish Zionist parties to support its causes.

Nonetheless, the Joint List is certainly not a lost mission. With time, pressure, and lessons learned, it can improve its internal functionality and viability; engage the Palestinian public more in its political decision-making; solidify the community’s collective conscience across geographic, religious and ideological lines; and raise its voice on the domestic and international level. The Joint List is clearly an imperfect organizational arrangement, but the ideals on which it is built – equality and anti-occupation – are the only hopes to overcome the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire. As Odeh’s U.S. visit showed, the party can still have a crucial role to play in the conflict – if it steps up and plays it right.

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    1. Gustav

      Odeh’s role is to play (sort of) the good cop. But he is doing a poor job of it. It is plain to anyone who wants to look at him that his objective too is the same as the objective of the Arabs was for nearly 100 years. He wants to end the existence of the Jewish nation state and turn Israel into the 23rd Arab Muslim state.

      Yea, he is using sweet words. He plays to the sentiments of gullible lefties, he is like a siren who sings sweet songs of temptation. But what he promises is simply impossible to deliver.

      The stark truth is that Israel can either be a Jewish majority state which is a democracy, albeit not a perfect one, because no democracies are perfect, least of all in the midst of a 100 year WAR!

      Or Israel can turn into the 23rd Arab/Muslim majority state in which case Jews would have no future here because we would be an endangered species.

      Much as it might be painful to hear for some people, those are the only two choices in town. Even if Odeh believes in the utopia which he tempts us with. He cannot deliver it. Any attempt to deliver it would quickly turn into what happened in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. It would be much better to deal with it by taking the example of the Chechs and the Slovaks. I call THAT practical and civilized.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        It’s really striking the jaw-jutting, teeth-clenching, stiff-necked negativism with which any and all overtures by the other side, no matter how irenic, are met with by the Israeli Right.

        Would you please define a realistic version of the Czech and Slovak Republics in terms of Israel-Palestine? Please define borders. And other arrangements. (And please remember that Prague and Bratislava would be represented by one city, Jerusalem, that has to be divided or somehow confederated or internationalized. Shared.) Thanks.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Benny I already defined it. You just don’t listen.

          As for Odeh please tell us what he wants to do with Israel’s immigration law? Which bit of what he wants to do is an overture?

          Now read my above post. It spells out the game that your Odeh is playing. One sentence sums it up. He plays the “good cop” while promoting the 100 year old Arab agenda. Oh, he is seductive alright but we won’t be seduced. Kapish?

          Wanna know why? For the same reason that Odeh does not want Arabs to be a minority in Israel, we don’t want to become a minority in our own country, in Israel.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            More hateful Liebermanesque fifth column rhetoric. (Yet it is Lieberman who keeps actually promoting Odeh as you know.) You’re as hostile and hateful as Lieberman, Gustav. And as Odeh told that guy, “As it says in the Book of Proverbs – ‘whoever digs a pit will fall into it'”. You see Odeh as dangerous precisely because he seeks real coexistence and cooperation and you deeply fear that. >>

            “Unlike the notorious, provocative Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi, Odeh cannot be easily labeled or dismissed. Or, in the words of Judy Nir-Moses-Shalom, wife of Likud Minister Sylvan Shalom, “He’s really dangerous… he projects something every Israeli can relate to.” By Israeli she meant “Jew”, and she’s right. There is nothing more threatening to any establishment than new alliances that threaten comfortable systems of divide and rule.


            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”More hateful Liebermanesque fifth column rhetoric”

            LOL. Benny insists on defining me.

            I repeat what I said about Odeh…

            Odeh is trying to change Israel’s immigration law.

            True or not true, Benny?

            After answering that simple question look back at my previous posts.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Please point to specific statements Odeh has made in the public record so I have a better idea what you’re talking about.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You mean you don’t comprehend even what +972 writes, Benny-leh?

            “His decision not to enter a New York office owned by an Israeli quasi-governmental organization that has — since its founding and to this day — promoted Jewish-only immigration”

            What does that imply, mmmmmmm?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Ah hah! So Odeh in fact never said he is “trying to change Israel’s immigration law.” The twisting you do! You sneak! The full quote is from Mairav Zonszein writing in the Foreward, not +972, and the full quote is this!:

            “His decision not to enter a New York office owned by an Israeli quasi-governmental organization that has — since its founding and to this day — promoted Jewish-only immigration and worked with the government and bodies like the Jewish National Fund to ensure contiguous Jewish-only territory throughout Israel is an act that sincerely and coherently reflects his positions and politics.”

            Let us, truthfully now, quote +972:

            “The Agency is affiliated with Israel’s Ministry of Absorption and with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which is involved in initiatives to displace Palestinians from their homes in favor of Jews.”

            “The Jewish Agency’s mandate is to promote aliyah, or Jewish immigration to Israel. The JNF has, as reported extensively by +972, been directly involved in displacing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel, in order to convert their land and homes into residences for Jewish citizens.”

            “This is the same Jewish Agency that has been directly involved in hundreds of initiatives to establish new residential communities for Jewish Israelis on land that was expropriated from Palestinians.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Awwww Benny-leh just give it a break. You in effect asked me how do I know that Odeh is trying to change the immigration law. I responded with two posts.

            You then being true to yourself, address only one of my posts while you ignore the other. And you think you negated the obvious conclusion, from both my posts, that Odeh considers Israel’s immigration law discriminatory? Try harder Benny.

            The guy complains about discriminatory laws. From his point of view our immigration law is discriminatory.

            From our point of view it is self preservation.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Odeh in fact never said a word about your immigration laws and he said a hundred other things and you have purposefully ignored every complex and quite wonderful and peacemaking, bridge-building statement he has made and have simply demonized him. Your purpose could not be more transparent. You do not want peace. You do not want co-existence. You want enmity and domination of ‘them’ by ‘you’. The only thing acceptable to you is that the Arabs on the plantation stay weak and submissive and know their place. You want them to forever accept second class status. You’ve gotten so used to upper class status that you can’t even see it. The proof is in the contempt with which you treat Ayman Odeh. Your demonizing Odeh shows you will demonize simply anyone who does not offer you surrender to an extremist far right program. I heartily recommend everyone read the Jewish Week article about Ayman Odeh that you, the demonizer, provided. Read every word from the start to the finish: “It will be added value for everyone.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            You are the one who has ignored my posts which demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt what Odeh stands for.

            He wants to change Israel’s immigration law (amongst other things).

            His “bridge building” is nothing but psychological warfare. He wants to sow discord and confusion and to make us argue within ourselves in order to weaken us. Then his Hamasnik and Islamic Jihad buddies would be able to mop us up.

            The above fact is so obvious that only a fool does not see it and only our enemies, like you Benny, want to promote him.

            Pssssst, Benny-leh, even the fact that people like you support him is a dog whistle for us that he is not genuine. And that’s just in addition to his overall “body language” which is crystal clear. He is against the very foundation of Zionism, which is founded on the principle of a Jewish majority state.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Yes everyone should read that piece. Start to finish. Odeh comes across wonderfully. This guy is very likeable. He’s wonderful. Read it. The sum total of Odeh’s words on the particular issue you distort: “If I am part of the demographic problem, when will my turn [at equality and respect and equal treatment under the laws] come?”
            Gustav spent hours searching the Internet for the one fragment he could twist and thus read malicious intent into, amidst a sea of marvelous, enlightened, irenic words by Ayman Odeh. Gustav is so threatened by this guy precisely because he is peace seeking and nonviolent and on a wavelength good western liberals instinctively resonate to. We know the fate that Martin Luther King met. Let us hope the Shin Bet takes Odeh’s protection, against the next Yigal Amir, as seriously as it takes the protection of other at risk members of the government. We have our doubts.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Oh Benny-leh, so how come he objects to the Jewish majority?

            Oh never mind, I don’t need to convince you.

            …Benny is gushing again, “he is wonderful …” He says. Like I said, according to Benny, anyone who is Arab is GOOOD (and is a victim) anyone Israeli or part of the Jewish establishment is “just twisting things…”.

            Benny-leh in full flight, LOL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            By the way Benny-leh…

            Do you think Odeh supports the so called right of return? Or is he against it?

            I say he supports it. What do you think that would lead to?

            Reply to Comment
        • JeffB

          I fully support an end to housing discrimination. Odeh is absolutely right on that point. But the easiest way to achieve that is for the Israeli Arabs to continue assimilating into unhyphenated Israelis not to regress into Palestinians. They live in a Jewish state. If Odeh’s wants to move to equality then that implies assimilation, his great grandchildren need to be Hebrew speaking Jews.

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Might as well take that to the logical conclusion — Israel takes back all the Palestinian refugees if they convert to Orthodox Judaism. Of course Israel would not take them back even then, because being a “Jewish” state isn’t the point.

            Reply to Comment

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