Joint List Leader Odeh: “Above All Else, We Say ‘No’ to Netanyahu!”

In a lengthy interview with Haaretz printed on Friday, January 10, Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) discussed whether his coalition of four parties would recommend Blue & White (Kahol Lavan) leader MK Benny Gantz to President Reuven Rivlin to be prime minister following the upcoming March elections. Relating to the position of the Joint List after the September elections, Odeh responded that “Our previous recommendation was only a technical one in favor of Gantz … while the only meaningful recommendation is an unequivocal no to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) in the Knesset plenum: "The immediate need is to strengthen the Joint List and achieve 15 seats."

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) in the Knesset plenum: “The immediate need is to strengthen the Joint List and achieve 15 seats.” (Photo: Al Ittihad)

Following are some excerpts from the interview:

How far are you willing to go for the Israeli mainstream? If Gantz wants to appoint you to be a minister, will you accept?

“I don’t like these official positions.”

Will you refuse?

“This question is premature. They [the Blue & White leaders] are still having a hard time digesting our previous recommendation. When Gantz agrees to sit with us and have his picture taken, he needs to think about it a thousand times. So what are we talking about?”

Forget about Gantz and his fears. I am asking what do you want?

“There’s no point talking about such a situation. I know Blue & White. Do you think it is possible for us to sit with [Blue & White MKs] Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser? If I sit in a government that is occupying the Palestinian people, if children in Gaza are harmed, I won’t be able to enter the restaurant where we’re now seated. If there is a serious peace process and three or four social issues the government will commit to, we will be able to seriously consider joining a bloc. Is [Moshe Ya’alon’s] Telem party ready for this? I don’t believe so.”

Are they the ones who blocked the establishment of a minority government [after the September elections]?

“I understood from my discussions with Blue & White that in fact, they [Telem] were responsible for this. During the recommendation period and subsequent to it, I sat with Gantz, Yair Lapid and with Bogie Ya’alon. I’m telling you that there was willingness on the part of Gantz and Lapid that we participate in a bloc to bring down Netanyahu, but Ya’alon was extremely insistent that Lieberman also be part of this bloc. He didn’t object to our being part of the bloc, but he wanted Lieberman to also be inside.”

Everyone talked about Lieberman not agreeing to be in a government with you. What do you think about a situation where, to replace Netanyahu, there is no choice but to join a bloc?

“There’s no way we’ll sit together with Lieberman – not in the government and not in a bloc.”

As you yourself admit, you head the most sectoral party.

“The big division in the country is the national one, and we’re a national minority. What we are missing after the founding of the Joint List is to take another step forward and think about creating a broader Arab-Jewish framework. The Joint List has two things, its composition and its platform. As for its composition, it has only one Jew and that’s not nearly enough; plain and simple. As for its platform, it’s a platform that’s good for all of Israeli society.”

Large parts of the Jewish-leftist community, and I assume on the Arab left too, would like to see you lead a left-wing Arab-Jewish party based on true cooperation. It seems to me that your heart is there too. Will you do this after the election?

“The immediate need is to strengthen the Joint List and achieve 15 seats in the next Knesset. As far as I’m concerned, this is our No. 1 goal. In the near future, we will have to preserve the Joint List while building a popular Jewish-Arab movement.”

You talk about a goal of 15 Knesset seats for the Joint List. How many Jews would you like to have on the slate, ideally?

“In my dreams, I’d like to reach 30 seats; 15 Arabs and 15 Jews.”

What do you offer a Jewish voter in addition to solidarity with the Arab community?

“The Joint List’s platform is the true left in the country. Not just in terms of size – not Labor with six seats and not Meretz – but also in terms of its platform.”

What about the Law of Return or institutions like the Jewish National Fund?

“Enough about the JNF! What is this JNF? Where are we living? A normal country has to act in a normal way and not in a perpetual ‘temporary-emergency’…. In times of emergencies a certain outlook is possible, or coming to a specific agreement; but the Law of Return definitely has to be changed.”

Do you actually believe yourself when you talk about two states? Can it really happen?

“Absolutely. The Palestinian state must be established with the 1967 borders alongside the State of Israel. I assume we will vote for any agreement between the PLO and Israel that is brought before the Knesset. Anyone who talks about a single state is either attempting to perpetuate the existing situation, or they are telling us to wait another 30 years until the Jews are convinced, and then start negotiations.

The message against the assassination of Iranian Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani by the United States as a violent act and the fear that the region is deteriorating into even greater violence is clear. However, what do you think about this man?

“The Iranian regime obviously isn’t the regime I’d want to live under. I disagree with it from an ideological perspective; I am secular on a day-to-day level. However, I do not want assassinations and I do not want a war to break out. In addition, I see that the presence of the United States in the Middle East has cost the lives of millions, and what concerns America is how to take advantage of the oil and resources in this region at the expense of the peoples.”

The problem in the Middle East and Persian Gulf is the United States? Not Iran? Not Hezbollah, which is aiming missiles at my house and yours?

“When they asked Muhammad Ali to fight in Vietnam, he said: ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger.’ Similarly, no Iranian has ever called me a dirty Arab. This is my place. I still think the main issue in the Middle East is not the axes of the extremists and moderates, but the Palestinian issue. In 2002, all Arab and Islamic countries accepted the Arab [Saudi Arabian] peace initiative signed it, including Iran. Only here in Israel the answer was no. Israeli intransigence is the problem here.”

I feel that issues in our region are uncomfortable for you. You cannot identify with Hezbollah, but likewise you cannot fully condemn it. Therefore, you avoid these issues and divert the discussion to criticism of Israel and the United States.

“One of the tragic things is that someone like me has no model that I can point to and say, ‘This is what represents me.’ For example, if I had to vote in Lebanon, I would vote for the Communist Party. Can I support the dictatorial regimes in the Middle East and the primitive regimes in the Gulf? No. But if you ask me who caused the greatest evil to humanity in the last half century, I would answer without hesitation: the United States.”

The full interview with MK Ayman Odeh, published by the English edition of Haaretz