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Ayman Odeh has a dream, but not all American Jews like it

The leader of the Joint List got a rude awakening on his first official visit to the U.S. after being falsely accused of refusing to meet the leaders of a major Jewish organization in New York. ‘I have actually found that Jewish Americans are more progressive than Jewish Israelis. But the problem is with the leaders of the community. They want to tell me how to behave and what to think.’
Hades MK Ayman Odeh takes part in the 18th annual March of Return, Hadatha, Lower Galilee, April 23, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Joint List MK Ayman Odeh takes part in the 18th annual March of Return, Hadatha, Lower Galilee, Israel, April 23, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

NEW YORK — “I believe in talking to everyone,” said Joint List leader Ayman Odeh. “In the Knesset, I speak with everyone.” He added, with a half smile, “Except [Avigdor] Lieberman. But that’s only because he refuses to speak to me.”

Odeh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel whose non-Zionist party is the third largest in the Knesset with 13 seats, is currently visiting Washington and New York for a series of meetings with diplomats, Jewish community leaders, journalists, think tanks and NGOs. But so far the only meeting that has been reported by Jewish media outlets is the one that controversially did not take place — at the New York office of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Upon arriving Thursday morning at the organization’s midtown Manhattan building, Odeh discovered that the umbrella group shared its office with the Jewish Agency. 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.

Staffers for the umbrella group suggested moving the meeting to another office on a different floor in the same building — specifically, to the offices of the Reform Jewish Movement. But Executive Vice President Malcolm Hoenlein rejected the suggestion. He then sent out a press release in which he wrote that he was “deeply disturbed and shocked at the refusal” of Odeh to meet him.

“I did not refuse to meet him,” Odeh told +972. He emphasized that he had responded to an invitation from the Conference of Presidents — that he had not requested the meeting. He did not know until he arrived that the umbrella group shared an office with the Jewish Agency.

“I just asked if we could move the meeting to another room, but they refused. Instead of saying, okay, I understand your discomfort, and offering to meet me in another office, they did everything to make me uncomfortable.” Odeh noted that he made no public statement about the aborted meeting, except in response to the statement released immediately afterward by the Conference of Presidents.

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. In one particularly egregious case, the JNF has been involved in a project to reforest the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of Al Araqib in the Negev, which has been destroyed over 90 times — even as its residents, who have lived on the land for over a century, methodically rebuild each time the bulldozers depart.

A man from the Zanoun family sits on the ruins of his house a few hours after it was demolished by the Israeli Land Administration, in the unrecognized bedouin village of Wadi Al Na'am, Negev Desert, May 18, 2014. The family of seven people was living in the house demolished for being illegaly built. Wadi Al-Na’am is the largest unrecognized village in Israel, with about 13,000 inhabitants, most of its inhabitants are internally displaced. The village is not connected to electricity and its inhabitants are subjected to Israel's house demolition policy. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

A man from the Zanoun family sits on the ruins of his house a few hours after it was demolished by the Israeli Land Administration, in the unrecognized bedouin village of Wadi Al Na’am, Negev Desert, May 18, 2014. (Keren Manor/Activestills)

Odeh, who spoke on Thursday evening at a private reception hosted by a Jewish Israeli ex-pat couple at their Upper West Side home, noted that he had by default met with more Jews than Arabs during his visit to the United States.

“I have actually found that Jewish Americans are more progressive than Jewish Israelis,” he said. “But the problem is with the leaders of the community. They want to tell me how to behave and what to think, to impose their views on me and tell me what I should say. I cannot accept that.”

Speaking in Hebrew during a conversation with +972 that took place Friday morning in Manhattan, the Joint List leader noted that he was not a member of Israel’s governing coalition. He was visiting the United States as the elected representative of Israel’s Arab citizens. Paraphrasing the statement he had given earlier in response to the press release from the Conference of Presidents, Odeh underlined that his party also refrained from involvement in ministries that pursued mandates favoring Jewish citizens at the expense of the state’s Arab citizens — specifically the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.

Odeh spoke passionately about his vision for the state of Israel as a place where all citizens, Arabs and Jews, had equal rights in every sphere. He understands that many Jews feel threatened by the idea of seeing their state become a place not defined by its Jewishness but as a state of all its citizens.

“I absolutely acknowledge the Jewish right to self determination!” he said vehemently. “But I am also committed to achieving complete equality for all citizens, regardless of religion or creed.”

The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency boasts about having contributed to the building of over one thousand residential communities for Jews in the State of Israel. But no Israeli government since 1948 has allotted land for a single new town or village for its Arab citizens, who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population, even as the government imposes severe restrictions on the acquisition of building permits in Arab-majority areas. As a result, Israel’s Arab “villages” are actually densely populated towns and small cities that lack the basic amenities and infrastructure taken for granted in Jewish towns the same size or even smaller.

Odeh asked rhetorically, “What’s the problem with building new villages where our old villages were in 1948? All I see is concrete where our villages were. We’ve lost the naiveté of village culture, but we haven’t replaced it with cosmopolitan urban life — with cafes and places of culture. I just want someone to convince me that this will hurt the Jews. It is actually in the best interest of the Jewish citizens for us to live in a state of equality.”

“I am sorry,” he continued, “if this sounds naïve. But I love both peoples. I am expressing my very frank and honest desire to build a joint and equal society. And unfortunately that desire threatens the hegemony.”

In response to a question regarding his vision of Israel in 10 years, Odeh described a “democratic state with full equality for all, social justice, an economy not controlled by tycoons, a bilingual population speaking Hebrew and Arabic and a more responsible attitude to environmental issues.”

Toward the end of the interview, Odeh suddenly recited from memory “I Believe,” a famous poem composed at the end of the nineteenth century by the great Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. He emphasized one stanza in particular:

Laugh for I believe in friendship/That a spirit I’ll find, a kindred heart/To share my hopes and share my joys/Compassion ever willing to impart.

“Listen to those words!” he said. “Amazing.”

“So if I know Hebrew poetry and appreciate Jewish history and understand their pain and the Shoah, then I want them to understand our history and our narrative and pain.”

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    1. Ginger Eis

      Ayman Odeh: the wannabe-Martin Luther King; a fake!

      Here are the cold, hard facts:

      1. Israel is a Jewish state that offers equal rights to ALL her citizens. Israel is also a democracy that is based on the Rule of Law, the pillars of which are :
      a. The supremacy of law and equality of ALL before law;
      b. A system of checks and balances between the three branches of government
      c. protections of individual and groups Civil Rights and Freedom;
      d. Promotion and Protection of Political pluralism
      e. Government by the Will and Consensus Of the People Partaking In Free and Fair Elections, etc.

      All the citizens of the State of Israel have equal rights. Those who deny this cannot point to a single provision of the Israeli law stipulating the RIGHT(S) that ISRAELI Jews have, but other citizens don’t!

      2. Since her inception, the Jewish State has invested tens of billions of dollars in the development of Israeli Arab communities in Israel. In 2012. The Jewish State allocated a total of NIS 4 billion to Arab communities over the next four years: NIS 800 million in 13 large population centers; NIS 1.2 billion for development in the Negev; NIS 680 million for Druze communities and NIS 360 million for Bedouin communities in the north. Approximately NIS 1 billion is intended for grants to local Arab governmental authorities.

      3. According to polls, 77 percent of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel while only 21 percent want to live in a Palestinian state.


      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        Here are some more facts:
        1. Israel may offer equal rights to all its citizens. But it sure as hell doesn’t deliver on that offer.
        On paper they may have equal rights, but that doesn’t stop the Israeli government from openly supporting organizations that openly discriminate against non-jews.
        a. The IDF and other political institutions regularly ignore and circumvent the rule of law, and what the supreme court as the highest arbiter of law has decided.
        b. See a. The Checks-and-Balances system has been sabotaged in recent years beyond recognition. The courts really don’t have a lot to say in today’s Israel, and if we’re listening to the government that’s still too much.
        c. Protections of rights on paper, de jure. De facto and in practice they are often circumvented or ignored when not applied to Jews.
        d. Protection of pluralism through outlawing dissident movements.
        e. Speaking about the “consensus” of the people when there’s a coalition government in a parliamentary democracy is always a bit absurd.
        If more than 50% had voted for one party… sure. But they didn’t.

        While all citizens of Israel have equal rights on paper, de jure, the reality of course paints a starkly different picture. While I can’t point towards any laws directly discriminating against non-jews, I can point to thousands of cases where it happened nonetheless, often sanctioned by the state and its institutions. Thousands this year alone, if I had the time and determination.

        2. The state of Israel has always invested considerably less in the development of its Arab communities when compared to Jewish communities. In fact only for a couple of years has investment reached a point where it isn’t negligible anymore, while basically nothing was invested in the first 20 years of Israel’s existence.

        3. It’s no suprise that most Israeli Palestinians want to live in the quasi-democracy of Israel, instead of in the de facto military dictatorship of Greater Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Daniel


          You claim that you come from Germany, right? I do not like mimicking others as some, incl. you do, but if I were to do so, I would, after reading the linked article, tell you: “while all citizens of Germany have equal rights on paper, de jure, the reality of course paints a starkly different picture. While I can’t point towards any laws directly discriminating against non-Ethnic-Germans, I can point to thousands of cases where it happened nonetheless, often sanctioned by the state and its institutions. Thousands this year alone, if I had the time and determination”.

          I can also point to you cases in which Germany has “banned dissident groups”,

          I can also point to you cases in which asylum seekers have been attacked and KILLED in Germany, something that has never happened in Israel, etc.

          Israel has a better record than Germany on the issues regarding human rights!

          Perhaps Felix Reichert should go fix his own country first. That’s what intelligent folks do!

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav


            Great response to Felix. You took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to say much the same thing. And the same is true just about any other country on this imperfect little planet of ours. Particularly during ethnic conflicts. But not only then…

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Eis’s rather vicious remark in the face of Odeh’s marvelously irenic and respectful statements–“Ayman Odeh: the wannabe-Martin Luther King; a fake!”—reproduces on a petty scale the general treatment by the Right Wing of any peace-seeking Palestinian, whether Israeli or non-Israeli: a strangely intense vituperation, vilification and hostility. We have seen this with Abu Mazen, who for all his faults, is no Arafat, is the un-Arafat in so many ways that count and count decisively. Yet Netanyahu and Lieberman reserve for Abu Mazen an especially intense hostility. They so clearly prefer an Arafat type. This is because Israel fears more than anything non-violent resistance. Israel fears more than anything the loss of a “security” pretext for its occupation. Netanyahu in fact longs for an Arafat. His pining for an Arafat is the subtext of every desperate, specious linkage he tries, tirelessly, to make between ISIS and any Palestinian he can lay his hands on. This is the real subtext to Eis’s “Martin Luther King” reference. Cold, hard fear. It gies beyond begrudging to aggressive nastiness. In response to a Palestinian Israeli leader saying all the things Israelis supposedly long to hear. Eis’s statement is Liebermanesque. The last thing either Eis or Lieberman wants is a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians in the West Bank or a just and democratic arrangement with Palestinian citizens of Israel.

        Reply to Comment
        • Daniel

          You probably need your medication, Ben. “Eis” does indeed stir up strong feelings in you that make you irate and irrational. What exactly did she do to you apart from ignoring you? Can’t handle that? Take it easy, men.

          Reply to Comment
    2. David

      Actually, you did not *ask* if the meeting could be moved. You did in fact *refuse* to meet unless the meeting were moved. From your own statement: “I cannot in good conscience participate in meetings in the offices of organizations whose work displaces Arab citizens.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        David: I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Odeh did in fact *ask* if the meeting could be moved. Hoenlein *refused* to move the meeting. Kings don’t move meetings for subjects, you see. So, Odeh’s approach could be summarized as “Would you please move the meeting? I want to meet with you but I can’t do so on this floor of this building.” Hoenlein refused. Hoenlein even refused to simply move to another *floor.* You characterize Odeh not Hoenlein as the refuser. Why? Is it because you think Odeh’s properly submissive response should have been, “Would you please move the meeting? Oh, you won’t Sire, ok I submit, I will meet where you want, Sir”? Is that it? Please clarify.

        Reply to Comment
        • Daniel

          Ben, as usual, you are full of it. But hey, keep playing *BY* yourself. Your sig other personality, “David”, who just a day ago claimed that the history of Jewish rule in the land of Israel amounts only to “less than a blip” will soon respond. *Chortle*. You can read what David/Ben posted here: http://972mag.com/trump-is-no-more-racist-than-mainstream-israeli-policy/114613/

          Reply to Comment
    3. Gustav

      “Odeh spoke passionately about his vision for the state of Israel as a place where all citizens, Arabs and Jews, had equal rights in every sphere.”

      I am the first one to admit that this dream would be beautiful were it realizable.

      The fact is that there is no Arab majority country where minorities have equal rights.

      The fact is that the only areas where Arabs in Israel are denied equal rights by law are in (1) immigration (2) security.

      (1) is because after centuries of persecution as minorities, Jews need one place on this earth where we are a majority so the time honored tradition of persecuting Jews cannot take place here.

      (2) is because we are still defending ourselves from the Arabs 100 year war which they have been fighting to end the Jewish majority state. Whether Mr Odeh admits it or not, he too is part of that war against us because he too is trying to achieve the same end. And we are convinced that if he would succeed in turning Israel into an Arab majority state, his dream of equality would turn into the same nightmare that we see unfolding in front of us in the rest of the Middle East which is a bastion of intolerance and opression for minorities.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Gussie your statements about Odeh are as classic a case of demonizing as it gets. Classic. You can’t contain the venom. The man you should be hailing and promoting, you demonize. Very telling.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Nope Benny-leh, no demonizing on my part.

          I said I support Odeh’s dream in principle. I just don’t believe that dream is deliverable.

          Try and improve your comprehension Benny-leh. And stop trying to polarize the debate.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Well in fact you didn’t just say that, you went over the edge into demonizing:

            “Whether Mr Odeh admits it or not, he too is part of that war against us because he too is trying to achieve the same end.”

            To say that and then accuse me of trying to polarize the debate is really something else.

            Your “Jewish majority state” are code words I’m afraid for a Jewish supremacist state, Gussie. This is the uncomfortable thing I think you’re not ready to face. How can we conclude otherwise? You could attain a safe, secure Jewish majority state by agreeing to a two state solution based on 67 lines. You know that. So it’s incumbent on you to explain your aims in detail when you use those code words. Odeh’s “beautiful dream” as you call it is fully achievable without the occupied territories.

            What more, for god’s sake, does an Israeli Palestinian leader have to say than what Odeh said in the last six paragraphs of the article above? He deserves to be attacked it rather than welcomed? That’s unbelievable. It’s just too funny the posturing you do.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            “Whether Mr Odeh admits it or not, he too is part of that war against us because he too is trying to achieve the same end.”

            I stand by that statement of mine. Odeh wants to change the immigration law. That would automatically result in an Arab majority state.

            …and that in turn would mean that we would once again become an opressed minority in the same way that all minorities are opressed in Arab countries.

            As far as your accusation about a Jewish majority state being a code word for Jewish supremacism. I say not really. I say that we are as capable of treating minorities as fairly as anyone else during peace times. While we are at war, of course it is more difficult to be fair to a people who as a group aspire to make us an opressed minority. You don’t believe me? That’s ok Benny. It makes us even. I don’t believe that your Arabs would treat us fairly if we let ourselves be a minority. You don’t believe me? Just ask Hamas what they have in mind for Jews. Over 50% of Palestinian Arabs voted for Hamas in the last democratic elections which your Palestinian Arabs held 9 years ago.

            Reply to Comment
    4. “… so far the only meeting that has been reported by Jewish media outlets is the one that controversially did not take place — at the New York office of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.”

      Aymen Odeh’s tour in the USA had generated a flurry of criticism and objections in local Palestinian social media in Israel from friends and fellow politicians based on the justified fear that the American Zionist lobby and media could manage to smear him or trick him into compromising his stand in principle on equality for all Israel’s citizens. The above cancelled event and its exceptional reporting illustrate the reason for such fears. Mr. Odeh proved to be a more savvy and authentically principled a politician than to fall for it. Hats off, Ayman and keep the dream alive.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Karl

      Oudeh says that he won’t attend a meeting at the Zionist building because the aim of Zionism is to “disinherit the Arab [population]”.

      He is correct. There is a human right to devise one’s inheritance – i.e., decide who gets what. And the ethnic Hebrew people are devising their estate to other ethnic Hebrews. And that’s our human right to decide.

      It’s not hard to become an ethnic Hebrew – ethnicity has no connection to religion. The Filipino kids in South Tel Aviv are the example which demonstrates that.

      Oudeh WANTS to be an ethnic Arab. Ok – he made his bed – let him sleep in it.

      Reply to Comment
      • RICK

        So the Jews in Israel have this sacred “human right”of land inheritance, but the “Arabs” don’t. I’d like to know where this “right” is agreed resides; international law? The U.N. Charter on Human Rights? Or is this simply “the truth” when convenient, particularly with the only specific condition that you have the guns to enforce it on the indigenous people residing there. I think that’s horsefeathers. The honest way of putting it is “take it if you can, because I’ve got the stronger force and I’ll take YOUR inheritance.” Is there anything remotely “principled” about that, let alone “Jewish”. Sophistry hiding thuggery. Ah, the “principles of the Colonial Settler State”; what mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too. Love it!

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          We are the indigenous people of the land Ricky. We returned from a long exile after a colonialist European power forced us to flee our land. Your Arabs are descendants of another colonialist invader who swept out from the Arab peninsula and stole the land from the European land thieves. Read some history books and digest the above Ricky.

          Despite that, we have accepted the idea of the two state solution, in other words the idea of subdividing the land. It is your Arabs who have been rejecting that compromise for over 100 years. Hamas openly says so and the PLO charter also says so even though the only time the PLO leaders don’t lie is when their lips don’t move.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Karl pithily explicates the unabashed judeofascist position. (Fascinating, really.) Gustav ratifies it with utterly specious “our colonialist invasion is better than those guys’ colonialist invasion” claptrap, but throws a bone: “nevertheless, since we are generous judeofascists–to hell with Yeshayahu Liebowitz–we’ll agree to divide ‘our’ land but on my patented ‘WWII Japanese surrender terms.’ Easypeasyjapaneesee.”
            Got it. (Fascinating, really.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            The definition of Judeo fascist according to Benny is anyone who does not accept Arab supremacist, Islamo fascist lies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Israel

            “We are the indigenous people of the land Ricky.”

            You are as “indigenous” to Palestine as the the French were to Algeria, Araby.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Obviously Ben who now uses the name “Israel” (coz he is a clown – not a funny one) hasn’t heard about the Mernepath stele, an ancient Egyptian stone which inscribes the name ISRAEL on a stone, describing the defeat of Israel by one of the Pharaohs.

            “set of hieroglyphs on Line 27 as “Israel”, such that it represents the first documented instance of the name Israel in the historical record”

            Is that not indigenous enough for ya, Benny? It certainly is more indigenous than the Arab invaders who swept out of the Arab peninsula.

            Reply to Comment
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