The Israeli elections are over and a coalition has been formed, thus ushering in the 20th Knesset. Relations between Jewish and Arab legislators have plummeted to an all-time low, especially after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s shocking race-baiting in the final hours of election day.
But earlier this week, MK Ayman Odeh, the new head of Israel’s third largest political party, gave his inaugural speech. Instead of anger, Odeh brought a sweeping vision of a shared society within a Jewish state beside an independent Palestinian country, peppered with Torah and Martin Luther King, Jr. Pulling no punches, he nevertheless struck a remarkable tone of constructive reconciliation. Nor surprise given Odeh’s call for Israeli Arabs to stand for the national moment of silence on Israel’s Yom HaZikaron, a nearly unheard of precedent for a politician from any Arab party.
Subtitled video above, full translation here, courtesy of Sol Salbe of Australia.
On a vision for Israel’s future:
Mr Speaker, distinguished Knesset, the year is 2025, the 10-year plan to combat racism and inequality has borne fruit. Hundreds of thousands Arab employees have been integrated into the private sector, the high-tech economy and the public service. The social gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens have been reduced remarkably and the economy has been prosperous for the benefit of all residents. Jews are learning Arabic, Arabs are diligently honing their Hebrew skills. Jewish and Arab students are being introduced to the great thinkers and philosophers of both peoples.
Arab communities now each have a regional master plan which have done away with bitter disappointment of people’s homes being demolished. In the country’s institutions of power and directorates, in government departments and the courts you can come across people from all walks of life. Palestine has celebrated its independence. Israel and Palestine have established cultural, tourism and commercial links based the mutual recognition and agreement on a just solution to the age old conflict.
All this happened only after we were able to understand that the true interests of the two peoples are common, both are seeking the blessings of life. This is not just wishful thinking, we can do it. We can either widen the chasm between us or we can choose life.
On the condition of Palestinian citizens of Israel:
Look at [life] through the eyes of Majid, an Arab student at Tel Aviv University, who cannot rent an apartment. Imagine him hearing the slamming of the phone when his accent gets recognised or when they catch his name. See life through the eyes of Imad and Amal, a young Arab couple seeking a home. 700 new towns and villages have been built by the state since its foundation – all 700 have been Jewish, and not a single Arab village or township in the Triangle or the Galilee. Most of the existing Arab communities don’t have current master plans, and I wonder: Where is an Arab couple meant to live? In the air?
Put yourself in Hiba’s place; she’s a lively girl who had just completed her secondary school studies and is looking for work at the shopping mall. She discovered, in an ad which caught her eye, that the position is only available to those who have completed their military service. Do you really need military skills to wait on tables? These are members of the most educated generation in the history of the Arab community, but doors get slammed in their faces again and again.
On Jewish victimization:
Mr Speaker, I deeply identify with the suffering of the Jewish people over many generations. I do feel the pain with which the Jewish people are burdened, a pain rooted in its past. And I do understand the anxiety that many Jews feel. I do not dismiss it at all.
On the occupation:
But the suffering of the Jews does not justify injustice or discrimination against Arab citizens. Nor does it justify the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories. Government ministers deepen the Occupation, violate the basic rights of the Palestinian people and transfer our collected tax revenue to settlements rather than to disadvantaged segments of society. And while all that is going on, there are those who demand Arab Knesset members cease talking about the Occupation. There are even those who promise that our grievances of our distress would gain a sympathetic hearing, if only we were to remain mum about this issue.
On being a Palestinian minority in a Jewish country:
Our identity is strong, and we will defend it, and yet, we will enmesh ourselves into the state and ensure that we do have an impact. Pride and national identity do not negate the desire to be part of the broad community and the state.
My brothers and sisters, I started with 2025, and I know that in 2015 the situation is totally different. We are marching on a long journey, there will be quite a few bumps and obstacles on route. There will be those who will find fault with us, while others will pray for our own failure. But those difficulties will not deter and nor will they break our spirit. Together, hand in hand, we will continue our journey.
On Prime Minister Netanyahu’s race baiting during election day:
Mr Speaker, I, Ayman Odeh, do not pose a threat, just like the half a million people who gave us their vote don’t. Mr Prime Minister, every citizen should rejoice in the citizenry voting, every citizen should be proud that they “flocked” to the polls despite policies of which the prime minister is the leading proponent. These voters are demanding civil and national equality for them and for all citizens.
On threats facing Israeli democracy:
Back in ancient Greece the people’s assembly in Athens became moribund, but not because of an external enemy. It fell apart because of the ostracism law. It enabled the ostracism the literal removal from town through a democratic vote, of assembly members because of their views.
And when ostracism became a popular implement, the Athenian assembly lost its moral authority. Today, when the majority promotes the Boycott Law, the NGOs (funding) Law, the Nakba Law, the Nationality Law, the Admissions Committees Law and the bills proposing to restrict the power of the High Court of Justice, we are in the Israeli ostracism epoch. This not merely tyranny by the majority, this is persecution.
On a vision forward:
Our response, our moral responsibility, is to stand alongside all of society marginalised communities: the Ethiopians, Mizrahim, the ultra-Orthodox, the Russians, Labour-hire firms’ employees and the homeless. We’ll even stand alongside those who were raised to fear us and hate us. Yes those who hate us. They, like us, deserve equality. “Injustice in one place is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King had noted.
(Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia.)