Arab speaker at opposition rally raises eyebrows

Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab party Hadash-Ta’al, spoke at the opposition party rally on Saturday night.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

A number of opposition speakers addressed the opposition protest that took place at the outdoor courtyard by the Tel Aviv museum on Saturday night. But one in particular is raising eyebrows among Likud supporters – Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab party Hadash-Ta’al.

According to Ma’ariv, the main opposition party Blue and White didn’t want Odeh to speak at the rally but caved after pressure was put on the party’s leaders by Knesset members, public figures and through social media. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz phoned Odeh only hours before the gathering to invite him.

The Likud responded to Odeh’s participation, saying “Terror supporter Ayman Odeh is speaking with the blessing of Lapid and Gantz. What a joke.”

During the campaign, Gantz dismissed the idea of including a coalition with Arab-majority parties. In his first televised interview as a candidate, he said he  “can’t have any political discourse” with Arab parties. Israeli Arab politicians “speak against the State of Israel,” he said.

He urged Arab citizens of Israel not to “follow those who act against Israel,” saying Arab-Israeli leaders “don’t serve their interests…

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“The day when their leaders present a positive agenda will be the day we could consider them as partners,” Gantz said.

The invitation extended to Odeh may signal that Gantz’s views are changing on the matter.

Odeh has been harshly criticized by Israel’s right-wing. After Odeh voiced support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad last year, Israel’s Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan blasted the Hadash leader.

“In a costume and with a voice a bit weepy, he has succeeded in misleading and in casting himself as moderate. We are talking about a man who is not ready to condemn a murderer of children who uses chemical weapons. He is a despicable enemy from within, with a seat in the Knesset of Israel,” Erdan said of Odeh.

In a 2015 outreach trip to American Jews, Odeh shocked his guests when he refused to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations because it shared offices with the Jewish Agency.

“I came here to represent the Arab public in Israel to American audiences,” he said.

“As their representative, I cannot in good conscience participate in meetings in the offices of organizations whose work displaces Arab citizens, just as in the Knesset, we do not participate in the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption,” Odeh’s statement read.

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According to the JTA, a spokesman for Odeh said that he “sees aliyah, the immigration of Jews to Israel, as expanding the Jewish majority in Israel at the expense of its Arab population.”

Tens of thousands came to the protest on Saturday, held under the banner, “For democracy and the rule of law – a defensive wall for the State of Israel and Israeli democracy.”