Why did Israel’s Prime Minister postpone visit to this Arab town?

Naftali Bennett’s campaign to boost Arab vaccinations coincided with Umm al-Fahm’s commemoration of Second Intifada “martyrs.”

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

Conflicting reasons were given for the postponement of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, which was scheduled for Friday.

Bennett had planned to visit a health clinic along with Ra’am chairman MK Mansour Abbas and the coronavirus czar for Arab society Aiman Saif to encourage Arab Israelis to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

After the postponement was announced, the Ra’am party said, “The visit was postponed at our request following the Memorial Day for the events of October 2000, out of respect for the martyrs who fell in October 2000.”

“This is a very important national event in the history of the Arab community and Umm el-Fahm. In order to respect this important memory and the memory of the martyrs, and in order to concentrate efforts in a proper manner – both in coping with the coronavirus that has spread lately in the Arab community, and in order to uphold the national events that are important to us, while maintaining national unity, and in a proper manner to our nation and to the city of Umm el-Fahm – Ra’am requested that PM Bennett’s visit tomorrow be postponed. The request was approved and the visit was postponed to another date,” the party’s statement said.

Friday marks the anniversary of Arab riots in October, 2000. Arab Israeli demonstrations against Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount turned violent, and 13 Arab Israelis were killed in clashes with the police. A commission of inquiry led by Supreme Court justice Theodor Or later concluded that police had no justification to use live fire against the demonstrators.

Opposition leaders denounced the visit’s delay.

“There is no humiliation that Bennett will not endure for his political survival which is dependent on Mansour Abbas. To cancel a visit due to ‘commemoration of the martyrs’ is a disgrace that will go down in history,” said the Likud party.

Clarifications were quickly issued by the Prime Minister’s Office and Ra’am.

“The visit was canceled due to expected demonstrations and security arrangements,” Bennett’s spokesman, Matan Sidi said. “This is the reason, and this alone.”

Abbas’ statement said, “The Prime Minister postponed his visit after it became clear that this goal would not be achieved. Any attempt to link the Prime Minster’s considerations to other factors is unfounded and inappropriate in my view. The message that Ra’am sent out about the visit’s postponement expressed its view only.”

A previous visit by the Prime Minister to an Arab Israeli health clinic also raised eyebrows. While meeting with medical professionals in Taibeh in August, Bennett was photographed not wearing his customary Israeli flag pin on his jacket lapel.

The Arab sector has lower rates of vaccination and higher incidents of COVID.

According to the Arab Emergency Committee, which is assisting the government coordinate vaccinations in the Arab sector, only 35 percent of Arab Israelis eligible for a third vaccination have been jabbed, while only 62 percent of eligible Arabs have received their second shot.

Local Arab Israeli leaders blame the Education Ministry for rising cases reported among students and teachers. They said the ministry postponed plans for widespread testing in schools until after the Jewish holidays, even though Arab schools remained open.

“It’s quite clear that most of the increase is the result of the education system’s carelessness,” said Umm al-Fahm Mayor Samir Mahameed told Haaretz. It was “as if we didn’t exist.”