Most Israeli democrats look at the incoming far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, as an unmitigated disaster. Hadash lawmaker Ayman Odeh, however, believes in an interview published by the English edition of Haaretz that what he acknowledges is a “deep crisis” also contains the seeds of a “major and historic opportunity for change” – in the form of a renewed and expanded Arab-Jewish political coalition.
MK Ayman Odeh during a meeting held at the Communist Party branch in Yarka, an Arab-Druze village in Western Galilee, November 2022 (Photo: Zo Haderech)
“At times like these, we must see the silver lining from an unfortunate situation. There is a new horizon we haven’t seen before,” said Odeh, speaking with Haaretz in his Washington hotel suite ahead of addressing J Street’s annual conference last week. Odeh said he began discussing such a renewal with figures in Meretz and Labor immediately after the election and promised that “in the next few months, the level of Jewish-Arab partnership will grow immensely.”
The last government, “It was not a good government: it was very, very, very bad,” he said. “Externally, it was seen as the ‘government of change.’ But internally it was simply right wing – a government that pursued Netanyahu’s policies, just without Netanyahu himself. It damaged Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel more than any government had before. … This is why I was in no rush to save the previous government. But even if I wanted too, it couldn’t happen.”
“No one in the coalition even asked us to vote in their favor. Realistically, [former PM Naftali Bennett’s] Habayit Hayehudi party was not going to sit with us. [Right-wing New Hope leader] Gideon Sa’ar didn’t want us. The idea that we could have come in and saved the day was a figment of people’s imagination. The people who brought down the government were members of the government. To blame opposition members for the fall of this government isn’t fair. It comes from disappointed people who are projecting their disappointment onto others.”
Odeh did not try to initiate meetings with White House officials. “The U.S. government is not only not part of the solution – it is the biggest problem. Of course, there are good people here and there. But when it comes to the institution itself: the leadership that has shaped the policies as they are today, toward Palestinians and Israelis, they’ve always been a main part of the problem.”
As he sees it, “you have Trumpism and its policies: declaring the Golan Heights part of the State of Israel, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, ‘the deal of the century’ [then-President Donald Trump’s widely derided Mideast Peace Plan, unveiled in January 2020]. On the other side, you have the Democrats still pouring money into the Israel Defense Forces as it deepens the occupation and kills Palestinians. They will say they are ‘not pleased’ with the reality, but no more than that. No action is taken.”
In general, though, Odeh believes that “the world isn’t going to respect us if we just sit around and complain about the Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir government. … I think it is pathetic to complain to the world without taking action ourselves.” He hopes the new government will awaken a new spirit of opposition, and that “we might see half a million Arab and Jewish citizens standing together in protest in [Tel Aviv’s] Rabin Square.”