Nowadays, it’s not often that one has any reason to feel optimistic about Israel. Impossible to excerpt because every single statement in this interview by Ayman Odeh, the leader of Israel’s Joint List, is superb. You can read it here. About Jewish-Arab relations and the project of equal citizenship, Odeh’s starting point is to push a practical program of civil rights based on integration; and then to pivot back to narratives, symbolism, and mutual recognition. In my many years watching Israel, I’ve never seen an Israeli-Arab politician (or for that matter an Israeli-Jewish one) make his or her way with such clarity and candor into a mainstream Israeli-Jewish publication and into mainstream Israeli-Jewish discourse. There’s nothing soft about Odeh’s position. It’s open and accommodating, sharp and critical.
Part of the open clarity and critical candor concerns Jewish identity in the State of Israel. What Odeh seems to understand better than most is how Israel society and culture is simultaneously both open and closed. It is that very simultaneity that is most confusing.
I would like to think that the formation of the Joint List and Odeh’s leadership is part of a process. It is beginning to become clear that, in Israel, this Jewish identity cannot be understood apart from, and depends upon, the Arab-Palestinian identity of their fellow citizens. At some point, I would only add that religion has to come into the conversation, namely Judaism and Islam. For now, about the incapacity heretofore to think clearly about this Jewish national identity, the response by Haviv Retting Gur, who interviewed Odeh, is telling. He hit it on the head when he comments, “It was often hard to tell if Odeh was criticizing Israeli Jews or praising them. Are they more accepting than even they realize, or simply hypocrites?”