Unity Government Could Mean Arab Opposition Leader

YERUSHALAYIM -

While the Israeli media speculated wildly last week about which ministries Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp would get if it joined the coalition, it overlooked the question of who would become the new opposition leader.

As the largest reminaing party in the opposition, it would be the Arab Joint List. As such, it would create the awkward situation of Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh being entitled to security briefings.

By law, the prime minister must update the opposition leader on “matters of state” at least once a month, and that normally includes classified security briefings.

When it came to light, the prospect horrified MK’s on the right, some of whom have only recently accused Odeh and his colleagues of being enemies of the state who openly support terrorists. Three of its members were suspended from Knesset activities by the Ethics Committee recently for sympathizing with terrorists.

It would also put Odeh in a position to meet with foreign leaders. This too would be an embarrassment, to say the least. Not because he’s an Arab Israeli, but because of his unbridled criticism of Israel and its Jewish leaders.

During a visit to Washington last December, Odeh decried “racist incitement” by the Israeli government against Arab citizens of Israel, and said he’d “like to salute the people who are working on BDS because it puts Israel on the spot in world public opinion.”

However, it was noted that the law does not define “matters of state” , and so leaves to the prime minister’s judgment whether sensitive security details should be shared with the opposition leader.

Odeh took a bleak view of the monthly meeting in any case.

“I meet with the prime minister already. I meet him almost once a month, anyway, to try to promote things. It’s not a matter of access, it’s about what will happen for the good of the citizens, and I see an opaque prime minister. He is an ultranationalist, there is no doubt of that…he very simply harms the weaker sector and Arabs, and even if I will be opposition leader, I don’t think I’ll be able to get significant things for those populations through Netanyahu,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Likud MK Oren Hazan referred to Odeh as the head of the “Palestinian List” and said it would be disastrous if he were to become opposition leader.

“It’s incomprehensible…An Arab sweet-talker who represents a different nation, not the Jewish nation, will be one of the symbols of the government and hold a sensitive role. He’ll sit with the prime minister once a month to receive updates on the situation.

“How can you run a country with [Odeh] as head of the opposition? He represents almost the worst of our enemies,” Hazan exclaimed.

He took no consolation from the fact that Netanyahu would not have to brief him on classified matters. In that case, he said, the press will accuse the prime minister of racism.

As for the opposition leader’s meetings with foreign leaders, according to diplomatic protocol, Hazan expressed concern that Odeh will “use his dignified platform to slander the state and undermine its legitimacy.”

“It’s a paradox,” Hazan said. “It will cause endless problems.”

However, if Herzog should eventually bring his party into the coalition, Odeh would not necessarily become opposition leader, since he might not be able to muster the support of a majority of opposition MK’s.

With Meretz backing him, Odeh would have a majority of one over Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu. But he could be stopped if MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp) carried out her threat to leave the party if Herzog joins, and then votes against Odeh for leader.

A source in the Knesset said Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu made an agreement to crown Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposition leader, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Yisrael Beytenu denied the existence of such an agreement, but added: “Of course, we will do all we can so Odeh will not be opposition leader.”

Odeh expressed skepticism about Liberman’s chances of success.

“All Liberman can do is support Lapid, and they will have fewer [Knesset seats] than us [the Joint List and Meretz],” he said.