Government refuses opposition’s offer to oversee Arab party funding

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the proposal a good joke and said “No thanks.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The government rejected early Thursday a surprise offer by the opposition to pull its reservations regarding a state budget-related bill being debated in a marathon Knesset session, if only one condition would be met.

Speaking from the podium MK Miki Zohar (Likud) said, “If we come to an agreement that every shekel that is transferred to the Islamic Movement and Ra’am will go through a mechanism in which the government and opposition have equal representation and will oversee the funds so that money won’t leak out to Hamas in Gaza, we will withdraw all our reservations and allow you to pass the budget.”

“If you agree to this, in my opinion you will both protect the security of the state of Israel and prevent a long filibuster that can last several more hours,” he added.

The legislators had been plowing through hundreds of opposition reservations to the Economic Arrangements bill, which is a separate piece of legislation connected to the budget that passed after a full night of coalition forces voting down the objections.

Answering for the government, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, “I’m glad to see that this long night did not ruin the humor of the opposition. The answer is no.”

Zohar then asked him, “What are you hiding from the citizens of Israel? What are you afraid of?”

In a follow-up tweet, the veteran Likud lawmaker explained that both sides of the committee he had had in mind would have veto rights over the exact destinations for the State monies promised to the Arab party “and non-profit organizations that were connected to it.”

Ra’am is the political wing of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev had just ordered an investigation into the Islamic Movement-affiliated Al-Aqsa Fund in response to an official inquiry by MK Orit Strook (Religious Zionist Party). She had taken the initiative after two NGOs officially complained to the police that the Fund was encouraging illegal construction in Jerusalem by raising money to pay the fines of Arabs who were building structures in the capital without permission.

Israel outlawed the northern branch in 2015 over its close association with Hamas terrorism and its outright denial of Israel’s right to exist. Ra’am’s platform, in contrast, is more moderate politically. It states that it supports the “two-state solution,” meaning the establishment of a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital and the dismantling of all Jewish villages and towns in Judea and Samaria.

BESA Center for Strategic Studies researcher Dr. Shaul Bartal noted recently that the Southern Branch doesn’t seem to be very different ideologically from its northern counterpart.

In a June report the expert in Islamist fundamentalism wrote that “the Southern Branch has expressed open support for ‘the Palestinian ‘armed struggle against the occupation’ in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and for sister-movement Hamas in particular.” He offered as proof that “to the present day” the movement’s newspaper “has offered positive coverage of Hamas alongside anti-Israeli expressions and open antisemitism.”

He also recalled that in 2006, then-Ra’am head Ibrahim Sarsur had declared, “Our participation in the Knesset elections does not annul our ideology, according to which the rule over the land, or at least over Arab and Muslim land [including what is now the State of Israel], must be Islamic rule under the leadership of a caliph.”