Near the end of a two-week long tour in the US meeting with a range of Jewish and American leadership on issues of civil equality and Jewish-Arab relations, MK Ayman Odeh surprised Jewish community leaders by declining to address a scheduled meeting at the offices of Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations because the Jewish Agency and other Zionist organizations share the premises.
The Conference of Presidents released a statement expressing their disappointment, as did the URJ's Rabbi Rick Jacobs who had hosted Odeh earlier in the week.
See the statements in full, below:
PRESIDENTS CONFERENCE LEADERS EXPRESS SHOCK AT REFUSAL OF JOINT ARAB LIST LEADER TO ENTER “ZIONIST” PREMISES
Thursday, December 10, 2015, New York, NY
The following is a statement from Stephen Greenberg, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued following the refusal of the head of the Joint List of Arab parties in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, to address a scheduled meeting at the Conference’s offices because the Jewish Agency and other Zionist entities share the premises. “We are deeply disturbed and shocked at the refusal of the Chairman of the Joint List of Arab parties, Knesset member Ayman Odeh, to fulfill his commitment to speak before a meeting of the Conference, because our premises are shared with the Jewish Agency, and other Zionist groups. We received several suggestions that MK Ayman Odeh be invited and, in keeping with the Conference’s decades long tradition of providing a forum for a wide variety of points of view on issues affecting the American Jewish community’s agenda, we extended the invitation. We have had leaders of virtually every faction and party in the United States, Israel, from friendly and unfriendly countries, and none ever refused to appear. For a member of the Knesset to assert that he will not enter a premises because it has an association with Zionist entities, like the Jewish Agency, is disturbing and dismaying. Representatives of a broad spectrum of organizations came to hear him and were rightly upset by his decision not to appear, although he was in the building lobby. A Labor member of the Knesset, who was by chance visiting the Conference, tried to persuade him, but to no avail.
We now understand the recent demand of the Mayor of the Nazareth, Ali Salem, that Odeh leave his city because his presence promotes divisiveness. Citing the participation of Arab leaders in some recent violent demonstrations, Mayor Salem said, “I blame the leaders; they are destroying our future, they are destroying coexistence.”
The Conference will continue to provide an open forum but will not compromise our principles and yield to such an outrageous demand. We hope MK Odeh will reconsider his stance if he, indeed, wants to advance coexistence in Israel and promote understanding abroad. As a leader, he cannot succumb to the pressures of extremists in his constituency, but should take advantage of such opportunities to provide his perspective, and that of those he represents, to an important and interested audience.
Stephen M. Greenberg, Chairman
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO
STATEMENT OF RABBI RICK JACOBS, PRESIDENT, UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM, ON DECISION OF AYMAN ODEH TO NOT MEET WITH AMERICAN JEWISH LEADERS
New York, NY; December 11, 2015
The Union for Reform Judaism is committed to dialogue for equality and dialogue between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens. This week, we invited MK Ayman Odeh to speak to Reform Jewish leaders. This was an opportunity for us to engage in the complexities of the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the internal Jewish-Arab issues in Israel. A meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations would have provided another opportunity to further the conversation and come closer to a solution. I was pleased and proud that the Conference of Presidents decided to invite MK Odeh to the meeting.
I am profoundly disappointed by MK Ayman Odeh’s decision to walk away from that important opportunity for him, for the cause of equality in Israel, and for the Conference of Presidents.
I speak as someone who has gotten to know MK Odeh, and believes his leadership is significant in the path to peace in Israel. I also speak as a proud member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and a member of the executive committee of the Conference of Presidents. I believe MK Odeh made a deeply troubling decision by refusing to attend the meeting because it was held in the offices of the Jewish Agency. His decision doesn’t support the important cause of dialogue to promote equality and coexistence in Israel. We hope MK Odeh finds the way to repair the damage and build bridges of dialogue in good faith.
The URJ is committed to a respectful dialogue even through major disagreements and will continue its efforts to promote the values of equality and coexistence in Israel.
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