Joint List Slams Minister Erdan for Incitement against MK Odeh

The Joint List announced on Monday, April 16, that it is weighing whether to lodge a complaint with the attorney general against the far-right Minister of Internal Security, Gilad Erdan, for incitement and endangering the life of Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, for remarks that Erdan made about the leader of the parliamentary bloc.

In an interview with Israel Army Radio on Sunday, Erdan launched a fierce personal attack on Odeh after the latter voiced a condemnation of the American, British and French air strikes on Syria.

MK Odeh during a plenum debate in the Knesset

MK Odeh during a plenum debate in the Knesset (Photo: Al Ittihad)

In the radio interview Erdan said about Odeh: “In disguise and with a somewhat whining voice, he has succeeded in misleading the public, casting himself as moderate. But he is a despicable enemy from within, with a seat in the Knesset of Israel.” The Joint List said in a statement that Erdan’s remarks made Odeh a target for bloodshed: “Erdan’s words are especially dangerous because he is in charge of the police, and his statements are a message that the Arab citizens must continue to be treated as enemies.”

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) said Erdan’s verbal assault on Odeh was motivated by narrow political considerations. “He is motivated by the desire to gain popularity in his party now that we might be approaching an election,” he said. “By inciting against Arab leaders, he gains more publicity and unfortunately more popularity… He is trying to keep Arab leaders and parties outside the legitimate political field in Israel.”

“Calling Ayman Odeh an enemy means endangering him,” Jabareen said. “We often hear that we are enemies, supporting terrorists or traitors. When we protested during [US Vice President] Mike Pence’s speech to the Knesset, ministers said we are on the side of enemies and traitors. These kinds of statements can definitely lead to physical attacks against the leaders of our community.”

It is not the first time Erdan has made controversial remarks about Arab-Palestinians in Israel or their leaders. In November 2016, he blamed a spate of forest fires on Arab arsonists. He said that Arabs whom the police had taken into custody were linked to fires, even calling for the homes of alleged arsonists to be demolished. All of the suspected arsonists were later released from custody, without charge.

Minister Erdan also made public statements of incitement against MK Odeh following the police killing in Umm al-Hiran in January 2017: “I want to say at this moment to [Member of Knesset] Ayman Odeh and the rest of the MKs from the Joint List who have come to enflame sentiments this morning: This blood is also on your hands. This is a grave statement, I know, but not as grave as your actions today. You are a disgrace to the State of Israel.” MK Odeh himself was wounded when Israeli police opened fire on him with sponge-tipped bullets in Umm al-Hiran that same day.

Adalah Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh emphasized that Minister Erdan’s statements constitute a most serious danger to the Arab public in Israel. “The minister’s repeated statements indicate a trend towards stigmatization of the Arab citizens of Israel, marking the entire Arab public as a source of danger and making accusations against them in an arbitrary and collective manner… This official approach of increased suspicion against all Arab citizens likewise influences the general public’s perspective and strengthens the phenomenon of negative stereotyping of Arab citizens – stemming from the perceived connection between the Arab public’s struggle and acts of terrorism.”

Adalah stressed the increased influence – and potential for danger – of incitement promoted by the government minister responsible for public security. “Erdan’s statements have decisive impact upon the manner in which the police perceive the Arab public, and upon their readiness to employ improper means and tactics when interacting with Arab citizens, for example, the light finger on the trigger which police have adopted concurrently with perceiving the Arab public as an enemy.” As Adalah noted previously, “This rhetoric is a continuation of the Netanyahu government’s ongoing strategy of incitement against Arab citizens of Israel, and its portrayal of them as a fifth column. The government’s legislative agenda also mirrors its incendiary speech with the passage of new racist laws, most recently the Expulsion Law, which seeks to illegally kick Arab members of the Knesset out of the parliament.”

Related: Hundreds Protest US-Led Strikes vs. Syria outside Haifa Consulate