Ayman Odeh delivers expansive, inclusive inaugural speech in...

Ayman Odeh delivers expansive, inclusive inaugural speech in the Knesset

May 7, 2015

In his first speech to the Knesset, Joint List Chairman MK Ayman Odeh, acknowledged the interests, concerns and hopes of nearly all segments of Israeli society while laying out a vision of cooperation and commitment to the weakest parts of society. 


Mr. Speaker, honorable Knesset, The year is 2025. The ten-year plan for fighting racism and inequality has borne fruit. Hundreds of thousands of new Arab workers have been integrated in the private market, in high tech and in the public sector. The social gaps between Arab and Jewish citizens have been gratifyingly reduced, and the economy is flourishing, to the benefit of all the country’s residents.

The Jews and learning Arabic, the Arabs are masters of Hebrew.Jewish and Arab students are learning about the intellectuals and thinkers of both peoples. Arab towns have outline plans, saving their residents the frustration of having homes demolished. In the corridors of government and on boards of directors, in government ministries, and in the law courts, are people from all walks of society.

Palestine celebrates its independence. Israel and Palestine maintain cultural, tourism and commerce ties, established after mutual recognition and agreement on a just resolution to the lengthy conflict.

All this happens only after we have learned to understand
that the true interest of both peoples are shared ones. 

All this happens only after we have learned to understand that the true interest of both peoples are shared ones.  Both are seeking the blessing of life. This vision is not merely my heart’s desire. It is within our power to do this. We can widen the gap between us, or we can choose life.


Mr. Speaker, it is with a sense of mission that I stand here as a representative of the Joint List, with its 13 representatives reflecting the varied faces of the Arab community and our Jewish partners in the struggle for peace and democracy.

Mr. Speaker, A month ago I marched to Jerusalem with representative of the unrecognized villages in the Negev. We set out from the unrecognized village of Wadi Alnaam. In the 1950s, the state gathered all the residents of the village in one place, and since then they have lived alongside the toxic waste site of Ramat Hovav, without electricity, without sewage, and without water.

In Wadi Alnaam, I met six-year old Salem who, when night falls, has nothing to do but gave tat the twinkling lights of the kibbutz cowsheds, and at the farms around. My fellow members of the Knesset, try for a moment to see life through Salem’s eyes.

Look at the situation through the eyes of Majid, an Arab student at Tel Aviv University who is unable to rent an apartment. Try to imagine the telephone slamming down when people pick up on his accent, or hear his name.

Look at the situation through the eyes of Imad and Amal, a young Arab couple looking for a home. The country has built 700 new towns since its establishment, 700 Jewish towns, and not a single Arab town in the Triangle and in the Galilee, where most of the existing Arab towns do not even have an updated outline plan. And I wonder, where is the Arab couple supposed to live? In the air?

Put yourself in the place of Hiba, a lively young woman who has just completed high school and is looking for work at the shopping mall. In the advertisement that catches her eye, she sees that they are only looking for people after the army. Do you need military skills to be a waiter?

These are members of the most educated generation of the Arab public, but doors are slamming in their faces, over and over again. On behalf of Salem of Wadi Alnaam, the student Majid, Imad and Amal, on behalf of Hiba, on their behalf and thanks to them, I am standing here.

Arabic is an official language. It is found on the streets of
Tel Aviv ... and, wonder of wonders, this has not brought
down destruction on the people living there. 

My fellow members of the Knesset, I stand before you today as the representative of a national minority that the state stubbornly refuses to accept as it defines itself. I know by heart hundreds of poems by Mahmoud Darwish, Samih Al-Qasim, and Tawfiq Zayyad, Muhammad Ali Taha, even though Arabs may not study them at school. Is it not time for us to receive our content through the front door of the education system?

Ladies and gentlemen, the Arabic language is an official language. It is to be found on the streets in Tel Aviv, as part of the public space, and wonder of wonders, this has not brought down destruction on the people living on any of the streets. Recognition of national rights does not take anything away from the other citizens; on the contrary, it enriches the space in which we live. We will continue demanding that we be recognized as a national minority, entitled to full civil and national equality, and we will fight for this.


Mr. Speaker, I feel a deep sense of identification with the suffering of the Jews over so many generations. I feel the unease that hangs over the Jewish people, as a result of the past, and I understand the anxiety that many Jews feel. I do not belittle it.

But the suffering of the Jews does not justify injustice or discrimination against the Arab citizens, nor the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. While the government ministries are increasing the occupation, harming the basic rights of the Palestinian people, and transferring our tax money to the settlements instead of to the weak sectors of society.

There are those who demand that the Arab members of the Knesset stop talking about the occupation, there are even those who promise that our troubles as a minority will gain a willing ear if we just stop talking about this subject.

And I ask you, members of the Knesset, how can I be silent in the face of the tragic fate of my people in the West Bank, in Gaza, and in the Yarmouk refugee camp? The Palestinian tragedy continues, day after day and hour after hour, and Israel keeps denying its responsibility in creating this situation.

We will not close our eyes to what is taking place around us, and we will not stop striving for peace. It is our right and our duty, as Palestinians and as citizens of the State of Israel, to stand on every platform and cry out: “Let my people go.” Also our brothers are entitled to freedom!

This beautiful land is good for all of us, the Jews and the Arabs. If turn it into a battlefield it will spew us out; if together we sow seeds for the future, it will bless us with all its fruits.


My fellow members of the Knesset, in my youth I was exhilarated by the popular struggle of the Palestinian people in the first intifada, and I led demonstrations of solidarity in Haifa. At the age of 15 I was called in by the ISA (Shabak).  At first I did not understand what was happening. I thought I was being commended, and I was filled with pride. Gradually the disaster became clear to me. Investigation followed investigation. I began to be suspicious of everyone, and as a result I cut myself off from my friends and found myself alone.

If not for my parents, Fatma and Adel, who are sitting in the gallery today, I am not sure I would have made it. The head of the ISA [Shabak] at the time is today my colleague here. I turn to you with head held high as one who as not forgotten for even a day the enthusiastic and hopeful boy from Haifa whose life was almost destroyed by the ISA. Despite the past, I turn to you and expect you to be a bold partner in promoting equality and democracy for all the citizens.


From here, I appeal to the Arab citizens who gave us their vote and their trust. Our grandfathers and grandmothers were the generation of the Nakba. [Like grass growing among the joints of a rock,)(In Arabic) parents were the generation that fought and survived in the shadow of deprivation and discrimination. Our generation will fight for and achieve equality.

My brothers and sisters (in Hebrew and Arabic), history has taught us that our national identity would never be blurred. The Ottoman Empire tried to deny the Arab identity of its Arab subjects and make them into Turks, and pursued every Arab symbol and every intellectual, Arab writers and poets were executed, but the Turkish achievement among the Arabs amounted to no more than the Turkish term of derision: “Tuz”!

National pride and identity do not negate the desire
to be part of general society in the country.

Can you too hear the roar of history’s laughter? During the period of military government in Israel, they tried to harm our national pride. On this matter, the acclaimed poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote: Take note, I am an Arab! Take note, I am an Arab!

My brothers and sisters, do not give in to despair and lack of faith. We are confident of keeping our identity. Our identity is strong and we will protect it, and at the same time we will integrate and influence. National pride and identity do not negate the desire to be part of general society in the country.

Brothers and sisters, I started with the year 2025, and I know that in the year 2015, the situation is totally different.  We are embarking on a long journey. There will be new few pitfalls and obstacles. There will be those who doubt us. There will be those who hope that we fail. But difficulties will not deter us and will not break our spirit. Together, arm in arm, we will continue our journey. Our moral lighthouse, the north star, guides us because our path is just and fitting.


Mr. Speaker, I Ayman Odeh, do not pose a threat, nor do
the half-million citizens who gave us their vote and their trust. 

Mr. Speaker, I Ayman Odeh, do not pose a threat, nor do the half-million citizens who gave us their vote and their trust. Mr. Prime Minister, every citizen should rejoice at the sight of citizens thronging the polling booths, and be proud that they do so despite the policies led by the Prime Minister.

These voters demand their right to civil and national equality for themselves and for all citizens of the country. The ecclesia of ancient Athens came to an end not because of a foreign enemy. It crumbled because of the ostracism law, which allowed for the expulsion of parliament members based on their opinions in democratic voting. And as ostracism became a more popular tool, the Athenian parliament lost its moral power.

Today, when the majority promotes the Boycott Law, the NGO Law, the Nakba Law, the Nationality Law, the Admissions Committee Law and the Supreme Court Law – we found ourselves in the age of ostracism of Israel.

Our answer, our moral responsibility, is to stand by all the weak groups...
And also to stand by those who have been educated to fear and hate us.

It is not only the tyranny of the majority; it is persecution. In the previous Knesset the party leaders spoke of a new politics, but they continued the old politics, filled with hate and divisiveness. Our answer, our moral responsibility, is to stand by all the weak groups. To stand by the Ethiopians, the Mizrachim, the Russians, the contracted workers, the homeless.  And also to stand by those who have been educated to fear and hate us. Yes, even those that were taught to hate us. They too, as are we, are worthy of equality. “Injustice in one place is a threat to justice everywhere” said Martin Luther King.


Members of the Knesset, among the excited members of my family in the gallery is my son Asil. The day after tomorrow is his fourth birthday. Asil is names after his uncle Asil Asleh, my wife’s brother, who was shot and killed at the age of 17 in the village of Arabe, during the events of October 2000, as he was seeking shelter in an olive grove, no threat to anyone.The person responsible was not brought to trial, and justice has still not been done. We will pursue justice and ensure that it will be done.

When my son was done on the same date as my uncles birthday, we saw in this a sign. We decided to name him Asil as a symbol of our choice of life. For no matter what happens our children and grandchildren will continue to live together in this country, Arabs and Jews. We have no choice but to choose life. Let us choose life.



More Stories

The American Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest NJ, a Task Force member, expressed in a press release  ...
Following the 2012 launch of its plan to enhance access to higher education for Arab students, the Israel's Council for h ...