Arab-Israeli Knesset member unexpectedly dies at 49

As a member of the first Arab party to join a governing coalition, al-Harumi made waves when he broke party discipline and abstained from voting in favor of the new Bennett-Lapid government in June 2021.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

MK Said al-Harumi of coalition kingmaker Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am party died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 49 on Wednesday morning, Israeli media reported.

A high school physics teacher hailing from the Bedouin community of Shaqib Al-Salam, al-Harumi served as the Chair of the Knesset Interior Committee.

“He was a young, energetic and intelligent politician,” Abbas said of al-Harumi in a statement.

“He always believed in his way as a member of the community of Negev Arabs. This is a huge loss. His entire life, he worked for the residents of the Negev. Everyone who knew him said he was an amazing man who knew how to get everyone to agree.”

“Shocked and pained by the untimely passing of my friend Said al-Harumi, the chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee and a man of the Negev,” wrote President Isaac Herzog on Twitter.

“In his many roles, al-Harumi was a wise and amicable public servant who faithfully represented the Bedouin community in the Negev. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Al-Harumi’s commitment to Israel’s Bedouin community and his integrity as a public servant were also noted by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, who referred to him as “a pleasant, honest and professional parliamentarian respected by his colleagues.”

“On behalf of myself, the Knesset and its members, our heartfelt condolences go out to his mother, sibling and the Beduin community, who lost a son and a valued leader who served them loyally,” Levy added.

As a member of the first Arab party to join a governing coalition, al-Harumi made waves when he broke party discipline and abstained from voting in favor of the new Bennett-Lapid government in June 2021.

Because of the razor-thin majority held by the so-called change bloc, al-Harumi’s decision to not vote in favor nearly toppled the fledgling government and almost sent Israel to its unprecedented fifth round of national elections in two years.

His decision to abstain from the vote was an act of protest against the planned demolition of unrecognized Bedouin communities, he later explained.

In an interview with AP in July, al-Harumi had said the outgoing Israeli government stepped up demolition orders for Negev Bedouin outposts, and expressed his opposition to initiatives aiming to urbanize Israel’s Bedouins.

“I want the Arab Bedouin of the Negev to choose their way of life,” he told AP.

“Those who want to live a traditional, agricultural life as Bedouin should have the opportunity to do so on their own land. What’s the problem?”

Iman Khatib-Yasin, Israel’s first hijab-wearing MK, will take al-Harumi’s place in the Ra’am party.

She was previously sworn into the Knesset as a member of the Joint List.

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Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.