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Mr. Odeh Goes to Washington (and not everyone's happy about it)

Joint List head Ayman Odeh headed to the United States this week, prompting mixed reactions from Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Odeh: ‘I am here to tear the mask off of Netanyahu’s lies.’

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh speaks on a panel during the Peace Now conference, July 24, 2015. (photo: Shalom Anasi)

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh speaks on a panel during the Peace Now conference, July 24, 2015. (photo: Shalom Anasi)

Perhaps I am foolish and do not understand the ambush of the Palestinian people that awaits Joint List head Ayman Odeh when he visits Uncle Sam? Perhaps the decision by Foreign Policy Magazine to choose him as a “global challenger” is really just part of a plot to bring him down? To force Odeh to swear allegiance to the flag of the state of the Jewish people?

This week Odeh traveled to the U.S. as the chairman of the Joint List for the first time, a diplomatic visit that will include a stop at the Haaretz conference in New York; public speaking events; and meetings with members of Congress, representatives of the State Department and the White House, Palestinian and Jewish activists, civil rights leaders, and more. The visit led to heated arguments on social networks in Arabic — which eventually made their way to the media — over whether Odeh should have even visited in the first place.

Opponents of the decision, which include social and political activists, claim that he is either “a traitor trying to undermine the Palestinian people,” or “naive and does not understand global politics by traveling to the snake pit of America, the source of evil and terror against the Arabs.” There are those who have hinted that a lot of Jewish money has been poured into the visit, while others criticized the attempt to represent Arab society on the international stage, arguing that Odeh does not speak in their name. The saner voices called on Odeh to come home and not despair when he finds out that U.S. policy is soundly behind Israel. “Just buy some cologne at the duty free and come home. The game is rigged!”

The discussion is, of course, legitimate, and I am happy there are many who are following the activities of members of Knesset and the Joint List. I can also understand the frustration and desperation due to the current government, not to mention the growing fascism and aggression toward Palestinians. The situation is dire, to say the least. A trip by the elected leader of the largest minority in the country may be seen as an attempt to take a page out of the book of the much vaunted democratic discourse in America, like putting makeup on Israel’s ugly face — a country that pretends to be democratic while oppressing and persecuting a fifth of its population.

So I asked. Odeh’s office responded as follows: “The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Peace is hosting a reception of the delegation, to which all the ambassadors — including those of Arab countries — were invited.” I was also told by Odeh’s staff members that the trip is not fully funded by any one individual or organization. The flight tickets and some of the hotel fees were paid for by different organizations such as Foreign Policy Magazine and the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Peace, as is customary in the world of social and political activism. The delegation is not traveling on behalf of the Foreign Ministry or the Jewish Federation, which often funds trips by Israeli public officials.

Most of the people I know analyze the reality of Palestinians in Israel more or less the same way. We are all against demolishing unrecognized villages, we are all against silencing dissent and banning the Islamic Movement, we all support equal rights and an end to the occupation. So what is so wrong if Ayman Odeh goes to Israel’s greatest ally and does the same thing from there?

What do the critics want? That he fly only if he is promised that Obama will change his policy vis-a-vis Israel? That he does not meet with anyone who thinks differently than what we Palestinians think and believe? That Palestinian representatives need to forever cooperate with a few Zionists who believe they belong to the Left? That political activity begins and ends with votes of no-confidence, in zero-sum games with Meretz and the Zionist Union within the bounds of local politics?

Are the people attacking Odeh today unaware of what he thinks, what he believes in, and how he is trying to promote the public agenda he is leading? There are those who unequivocally oppose Odeh’s ideology — that’s fine, since we should be able to argue with his vision and direction. But to act as if Odeh does not himself know the significance of the relationship between the United States and Israel? As if the chairman of the Joint List and a member of Hadash has never heard about foreign aid to Israel and security coordination in the Middle East? Do they think he simply does not understand the map of global power?

Odeh just wants to be able to play in the big leagues, and if the situation truly is irreparable, the least he can do is let it be known to congresspeople who remain in the thralls of AIPAC and the only democracy in the Middle East.

Joint List leader, Ayman Odeh, speaks during the party's Hebrew-language launch event, Tel Aviv, February 11, 2015. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Joint List leader, Ayman Odeh, speaks during the party’s Hebrew-language launch event, Tel Aviv, February 11, 2015. (Photo: Activestills.org)

During his visit, Odeh will speak about the Israeli government’s decision to ban the Islamic Movement, about the unrecognized villages, the persecution and murder of innocents. Or in his words: “I flew to the United States in order to raise the issues and problems of the Arab public on the international stage. I am speaking here about institutionalized discrimination, of the national face of poverty, and the hundreds of thousands who live without electricity or water under constant threat of expulsion from their land.

“I am here to tear the mask off of Netanyahu’s lies, who has based his rule on inciting against us and continues to try and convince the world that he can manage the conflict. One cannot manage a people under occupation and military rule, the conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved through ending the occupation and a peace agreement based on justice and independence for both nations.”

It is clear that U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israel will not change following Odeh’s visit. The occupation won’t end, even if Odeh meets with President Obama himself. But we can encourage American politicians to understand the complexity of the situation here, to ask questions and fight against the story Israel is selling to the world.

We won’t see the effect of Odeh’s visit immediately, but we must continue to try and build bridges to the international community. Currently all the members of the Joint List are acting as lone wolves, and often times say or do something without coordinating with the others. On the face of it, the job of the minority is simple. In reality, it is much more difficult: “the organize,” demand, protest, rebel, go against the oppressive majority, and challenge the rules of the game. On the court.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Edward Goldstein

      Bravo for Odeh! He’s simply practicing politics since he is a politician. Politics is the effort to persuade, to get people to agree with you. Most Americans, including most American Jews, have never met or heard a Palestinian and are told that all Palestinians are genocidal savages with a so-called “culture of hate.” Simply by being in the US — in addition to which which Odeh is an appealing, articulate figure — he will give the lie to these stereotypes, will plant seeds of doubt about the Zionist narrative and, for sure, is already unnerving the pro-Israel Lobby and Israeli government who wish the most strongly that he wasn’t coming. I wish more Palestinian leaders, whether from Israel or Palestine, would find ways to get to the US and tour, meet, lecture, give interviews as Odeh will do. You cannot rely on the American media or political system to portray Palestinians fairly or to give honest voice to just Palestinian claims. Palestinians (and their relatively few allies here) must carry the message themselves. Good luck to him!

      Reply to Comment
      • Merkava

        1. “Most Americans, including most American Jews, have never met or heard a Palestinian…”

        You are not that dense to make such an uninformed claim, Goldstein (LoL…), are you?

        2. “…and are told that all Palestinians are genocidal savages with a so-called “culture of hate.”

        You mean “savages” like this:


        3. “Simply by being in the US (…) he will give the lie to these stereotypes, will plant seeds of doubt about the Zionist narrative….l”

        Your “seeds of doubt” is bearing ZERO fruit. Unlike you and your fellow jihadis, Americans are not stupid.

        “I wish more Palestinian leaders, whether from Israel or Palestine, would find ways to get to the US and tour, meet, lecture, give interviews as Odeh will do”.

        They have been doing that for years, moron, but with ZERO tangible effect, because all they desire has nothing to do with human rights and justice, but the demise of the Jewish State. Americans reject that. Got it, BEN….eh…. sorry, EDWARD GOLDSTEIN?!

        How about “Weiss” get to say something, BEN?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      These critics of Odeh do not understand the massive ignorance of Americans in regards to what really goes on in Israel and in the territories. The average American is clueless. Let the good, decent, likable Odeh meet them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        ..and tell his his half truths to them, right, Benny-leh? It goes like this…

        …those bloody Israeli Jews. We are doin’ nuffin, nuffin against those darn joooooos. But they pick on us poor victim Palestinian Arabs…

        …you yankees are nice people can’t you do something to those damn jooos coz we love ya yankees…

        Right, Benny-leh?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Nope. But I’ll just let your racist ugliness tell the real story.

          Elsewhere I called you “a +972 Amplifier.” We’ll give you another ribbon for this one. You’re the gift that keeps on giving.

          Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            BEN does not know that the unemployment rate of African American males is 10.4% and more than twice that of their White counterparts and BEN does not care. BEN does not know that Israeli Arabs are more likely to have university education and employment in Israel than are African Americans and Latinos in the United States and BEN does not care.

            BEN does not know that the life expectancy of Israeli Arabs in Israel are higher than the life expectancy of average Americans and BEN does not care.

            Bernie Sanders: “For young people who have graduated high school or dropped out of high school, who are between the ages of 17 and 20, if they happen to be white, the unemployment rate is 33 percent, If they are Hispanic, the unemployment rate is 36 percent. If they are African-American, the real unemployment rate for young people is 51 percent.”

            BEN does not even know that Arab citizens of Israel are waay better off than the average citizens (incl. BEN) of the country he claims he comes from because of the rights, freedoms and services Israel provides its Arab-citizens. But BEN is here ranting and raging EVERY SINGLE day against the Jewish State, while ignoring the far worse quagmire that threatens the existence of the country he CLAIMS he comes from (the United States).

            What kind of a jerk is this BEN-guy?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            LOL exactly what is racist in my above post, Bennyleh? The fact that I dare to highlight Palestinian Arab racism towards Jews?

            And your false indignation betrays you too as a racist Benny-leh. That and your constant defence of racists as well as your obvious hatred towards all things Jewish, starting with the idea of a Jewish state. All other ethnic states you accept only the idea of a Jewish state is anathema to you. You are the racist, Benny and you know it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The fact that you don’t see it and have to ask says a lot. Your Israeli condescension and racism is so ingrained, so habitual, so “natural,” that it’s like, “Racism? What racism? They’re just Arabs.” “Occupation? What occupation? Oh, that. Big deal.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Benny with his straw men again.

            1. Show me one post in which I deny the occupation. What I do deny is your claim that the occupation is illegal. The occupation came about because of Arab agression. And it is perfectly legal until such time as the Arabs agree to sign a peace deal. Germany and Japan who committed agression were occupied too, for years, after WW2 and there was nothing illegal about it. In fact, German and Japanese lands were confiscated real German and Japanese lands.

            2. As far as racism, Benny-leh, YOU are the racist. You have shown time and time again your hatred of Jews. Heck, you even shown your disdain of Americans, even though you claim to be American.

            Reply to Comment