New Israeli Politics (Ayman Odeh)


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?”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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7 Responses to New Israeli Politics (Ayman Odeh)

  1. yiskasara says:

    I am in favor of his suggestion of Sachki-Sachki as a serious candidate for the anthem. And while we’re at it, “The Power and the Glory” for the USA.

  2. MondoPrinte says:

    Great interview, Good posting. But where you – correctly- speak of the necessity of interreligious dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian context, you should not have left out Christians.

    • zjb says:

      Fair enough, and if I did neglect Christianity it’s only because Jewish-Muslim tensions absorb in a most dangerous way the conflict, particularly over the Temple Mount/Haram.

  3. Milx says:

    An Arab-Israeli polity aligned behind Odeh is one that can create peace in Israel. A partner for peace never meant someone who agreed w/ every Israeli position but someone who was at the very least invested in the concept of being a citizen of Israel, at the very least willing to put nationalism on the back-burner in favor of ‘civil rights’ and ‘economic justice.’ Ironically this puts Odeh into immediate dialogue w/ Bennett who has often argued that prosperity will lead to peace long before territorial concessions will.

  4. I am proud that I voted for Odeh and the Joint List (together with three members of my family, I think we cornered the market on modern orthodox support of the Joint List in one family!) We have to see more Jewish Israelis (and, of course, more Palestinians Israelis) support the Joint List, the way American whites stood shoulder to shoulder with African Americans. And more American liberal Zionists. That’s tough for some because of Balad, but politics is about making compromises. And Balad, which is no more Arab nationalist than Meretz is Jewish nationalist, also supports the agenda of civil equality and minority national rights. In fact, simply in terms of civil rights, i see no difference between Meretz and Balad.
    The strategy of the Joint List is not just to represent one sector that is discriminated against, but to bring together all those sectors, a coalition of the “defukim” in Israeli society. If that strategy holds, then Odeh could be leading a peaceful revolution. But it will be tough, because Israeli majority society has always ruled its minorities through dividing and conquering them, and pitting them against each other.
    One of the main differences between the US and Israel, is that in Israel there is no education against racism. There are few Americans who will admit publicly to being racist (even though they may in fact be racist) because of the opprobrium. In Israel, “racist” is just considered a leftwing pejorative that nobody cares about except the left. (I once called somebody a racist, and he looked at me and said, “And your point is…?” ) Some lip service is giving to the idea of zelem elokim, but in schools — especially in religious schools, prejudice, racism, and bigotry, is the norm, as is the case in home. The Russian aliyah, by the way, only enforced these prejudices.
    So we are now reaping decades of racism and neglect towards Ethiopian Israelis. Israelis loved Ethiopian Jews davka because they seemed to be proof that Israeli Jewish are not racist towards Blacks…if they are Jewish. They brought them here and segregated them, discriminated against them, and patted themselves on the back about how they rescued Black Jews. The double game Israelis play with the Ethiopians is not too dissimilar from the double game they play with the Druze — they feed a positive self-image which is almost entirely divorced from reality.
    Zionism may not be racism, but Israel is a deeply racist and bigoted society — to be sure, no society is free of racism.. But, as I wrote above, the first step in rooting out racism is to educate against it. And that is simply not the case in Israel, as I, who raised four children in the Israeli educational system, can attest.

    • Milx says:

      In Israel, “racist” is just considered a leftwing pejorative that nobody cares about except the left.

      This is probably a good thing, tbh. In the US people care about being called a racist, but they don’t care quite as much about being racist. The left in the US has successfully stigmatized the term, but unsuccessfully stigmatized the behavior so we have a country where everyone is deathly afraid of being called racist and yet our society has not been reformed or become equitable. It’s the kind of pyrrhic symbolic victory the left specializes at.

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