MK Odeh Refuses to Enter Zionist Offices of US Jewish Group

The chairman of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) refused to address the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Thursday, December 11, in protest of the fact that the New York offices in which the meeting was to be held also house the Jewish Agency and many other Zionist organizations.

MK Ayman Odeh at the United Nations Headquarters with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson

MK Ayman Odeh at the United Nations Headquarters with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (Photo: Al Ittihad)

“I came here to represent the Arab public in Israel to American audiences,” Odeh said in a statement Thursday after the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations released a statement saying it was “disturbed and shocked” at Odeh’s refusal. “Throughout my visit to the United States, I have spoken with Jewish and Palestinian communities about the need for a joint struggle for our shared future, based on mutual respect and independence for both peoples,” he wrote in his statement. “The Conference of Presidents’ refusal to meet in any other location shows a deep lack of understanding and respect. As representative of the Arab public, I cannot in good conscience participate in meetings in the offices of organizations whose work displaces Arab citizens, just as in the Knesset, we do not participate in the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption,” Odeh said in his statement.

A spokeswoman for Odeh said that the displacement of Arab citizens cited by Odeh referred to the Jewish Agency’s affiliation with a separate entity, the Jewish National Fund, which has long been challenged by Arab groups in Israel for policies that have in the past favored Jews over Arabs in leasing land. The spokeswoman also said that Odeh sees aliyah, the immigration of Jews to Israel, as expanding the Jewish majority in Israel at the expense of its Arab population. The Jewish Agency is responsible, with the Ministry of Absorption, for settling newcomers in Israel. Another issue for Odeh is the funneling of money to West Bank settlements from another Jewish Agency affiliate, the World Zionist Organization, the spokeswoman said.

On Tuesday, December 8, rabbis and lay leaders from the Reform movement in New York met with Odeh. The meeting was hosted by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and Rabbi Joshua Davidson, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in New York City, according to a statement issued by URJ. In discussing his first year in the Knesset and his political goals for the future, Odeh told the Reform leaders that “more democracy and social justice in Israel is in our shared interest.” The Reform leaders welcomed Odeh’s message. “MK Odeh has an inspiring vision for a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians,” Jacobs said. “We were delighted to host MK Odeh in one of our leading houses of worship, to share with him the beauty, history, and activism of our Reform Movement and to discuss together our shared commitment to a vision of Israel that draws from the prophets of justice and righteousness for all.”

The Reform leaders linked their meeting with Odeh to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent call for a ban on entry of Muslims to the United States. “This is most appropriate at Hanukkah time, when we reflect on our commitment to tolerance in our increasingly intolerant world,” Jacobs said. “When we extended this invitation to Odeh, we would never have thought that his very presence in the United States would be controversial. However, we met the day after Donald Trump disgraced himself by calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.”

During his week long visit to the United States, Odeh met with United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, congressmen and senior Obama administration officials at the White House and State Department. He also met in Washington and in New York with Arab-American groups and leaders of progressive think tanks.