Last October, as the Palestinians began their latest round of terrorist war against Israel, lawmakers from the Joint Arab List participated in mass anti-Israel rallies in major Arab towns. One such rally in Nazareth in mid-October attracted some 2,500 participants. After it ended, some demonstrators started throwing rocks at Jews.
The next day, MK Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint Arab List stood on a street in Nazareth and gave a live interview to Channel 2 news.
Just as the camera began filming, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam drove down the street. Seeing Odeh, Salam stopped his car and began bellowing, “Get out of here! Enough of your interviews. Go ruin things somewhere else!” Odeh tried lamely to get the camera to stop filming. But Salam continued shouting.
“You guys ruined the city. I’m the mayor… there wasn’t even one Jew here today. Not even one! What are you being interviewed about? What are you doing to us?… You had a march, you guys torched the world. Shut up! Leave! Move it!” Salam’s outburst did not come out of nowhere. He was voicing the frustration that most Israeli Arabs feel towards their Knesset representatives who spend far more time demonizing Israel than advancing the interests of Arab Israelis inside of Israel.
According to the latest detailed survey of Arab Israelis published in November by Prof. Sami Smooha, 60 percent of Israeli Arabs do not trust their representatives in the Knesset. Two thirds of Israeli Arabs say that their Knesset representatives are not advancing their interests.
A full 80% of Israeli Arabs believe that it is the job of the Arab members of Knesset to advance their communal interests rather than concentrate on political war against Israel.
Most Israeli Arabs would probably agree that they are hurt by the political war against Israel. After all, 77% of Israeli Arabs define themselves as Israelis, 60% accept Israel as a Jewish state, and 54% believe Israeli democracy extends to them.
While Odeh’s constituents feel betrayed by him, the Obama administration apparently can’t get enough of him and his anti-Israel message.
Last month Odeh became the first Israeli Arab politician to receive an audience at the White House.
While in the US, Odeh was hailed as an Israeli Martin Luther King Jr. as he trampled on the civil rights of Jews. Odeh insulted the American Jewish community by refusing at the last moment to participate in a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
As the leaders of the Conference’s member organizations sat waiting for him at the Conference’s offices in New York, Odeh stood in the building’s lobby and refused to get into the elevator. Odeh, a member of Knesset who has sworn allegiance to the Jewish state, wouldn’t meet with the American Jewish leaders because the Conference offices are located on the same floor as the Jewish Agency’s offices. And the leader of the third-largest Knesset faction didn’t want to give any legitimacy to Israel’s national institutions.
In light of Odeh’s insulting bigotry, it is troubling that the Obama administration spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to train Odeh’s political operatives and help them campaign during last year’s Knesset elections. It is similarly distressing that to elevate Odeh, the administration broke protocol and rolled out the red carpet for him, even as his own constituents attack him for effectively disenfranchising them.
It is against the backdrop of Odeh’s US-supported irredentism that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave one of the most significant speeches of his career Saturday night.
Standing at the site of Friday’s Islamic State-like massacre in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that the time has come for Israeli Arabs – and their leaders – to recognize that with equal rights come equal obligations.
In his words, “One cannot say ‘I am an Israeli in rights and a Palestinian in obligations.’ Whoever wants to be Israeli should be an Israeli all the way, both in rights and in obligations, and the first and highest obligation is to obey the laws of the state.”
Netanyahu demanded that the Arab members of Knesset denounce the attack and condemned the rampant incitement against Israel that takes place in the Israeli Arab sector. He then announced that the government will be investing billions of shekels in massively strengthening law enforcement in Israeli Arab towns and villages, and will seize the tens of thousands of illegal firearms that are now held by Israeli Arabs.
Netanyahu ended his remarks by embracing the integrationist trend among Israeli Arabs.
In his words, “I view positively the increasing involvement in the IDF, in national service and in the overall life of the state, of the Christian, Druze and northern Bedouin communities, and within the Muslim community as well.
I call on all citizens of Israel, especially its Muslim citizens, to take the path of integration, coexistence and peace and not the path of incitement, hatred and fanaticism. We are all citizens of the state and are all bound to maintain it and uphold its laws.”
According to Smooha’s data, only 18.5% of Israeli Arabs support violence against Israeli Jews, and only 17% have no problem with Islamic State. But then again, when taken in absolute numbers, these numbers mean that some 250,000 Israeli Arabs do not have a problem with Islamic State and support violence against Israeli Jews.
Odeh, who opposes Israeli Arab military and national service, harshly condemned Netanyahu’s speech. He castigated the premier as “a human being that just incites.”
Of course, the problem is Odeh, not Netanyahu. In a recent interview with Army Radio, Odeh refused to condemn Palestinian stabbing attacks against Israeli Jews insisting, “I won’t define red lines for the Palestinian nation.”
It is Odeh, through his US-supported denunciation of Israel who cultivates an intellectual climate where support for IS and terrorism against Israel in general can grow, even as the vast majority of Israeli Arabs reject it. While Israeli Arabs like Mayor Salam stand helplessly on the sidelines, Odeh embraces Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. Not surprisingly, in this welcoming environment, it is hard to rein in Islamic terrorism. So it has grown.
According to data from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), to date, some 150 Israeli Arabs have left the country to join Islamic State. Last year the Shin Bet reported it had broken up four Islamic State cells of Israeli Arabs. Three of the reports were from the past three months alone.
The main jump in Israeli Arab support for Israel has come in recent years, and in the face of the breakdown in the peace process between Israel and the PLO.
There are two main reasons for positive trend. First, since 2009, the government has invested billions of shekels in strengthening Israeli Arabs economically and integrating them into wider society. Arab income has grown nearly ten percent in the past decade.
The second reason for the steep rise in Israeli Arab identification with Israel owes to the rise of Islamic State and the demise of the Arab states as Syria, Libya and Iraq have disappeared and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia teeter on the brink.
In comparison to the rest of the region, Israel Arabs rightly view their country as an island of tranquility and peace.
Netanyahu’s speech was a watershed moment in Israeli politics, because after years of pretending away the breach between popular Israeli Arab support for integration and rejection of integration – and of Israel itself – by the radicalized Israeli Arab political leadership, Netanyahu attacked it head on. In so doing, he made a direct link between the rise of Islamic State-style terrorism and Odeh’s support for Palestinian terrorism.
By demanding loyalty and pledging to apply the law equally to Arabs and Jews alike, Netanyahu put Odeh and his international supporters on notice. Israel will not allow radical Arab politicians and their radical supporters in Washington to continue to intimidate the government out of enforcing the laws of the state to all of Israel’s citizens equally.
With the support of the vast majority of Israeli Arabs, who realize that Odeh and his colleagues are endangering their future, the government will root out and destroy the jihadists and their supporters, and so ensure that Israeli remains the Jewish democracy that extends full rights to its Arab citizens it has always been.