Joint Arab List MKs abstain from President Peres' funeral

Joint Arab List MKs abstain from President Peres' funeral

October 7, 2016

In the week following the death of President Shimon Peres, significant controversy arose around MKs from the Joint List about their decision not to attend the funeral nor make statements of condolences honoring the late leader. The Joint List is the only Arab party in the Knesset and, with 13 seats, its third largest. 

Todeh on channel twohe day prior to the funeral, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told Army Radio that the party had not issued an official statement of condolence and was choosing to remain silent “out of respect” and on his Twitter account, Odeh wrote in Hebrew that “Peres’s memory in the Arab community is different from the narrative that has been spoken about over the past few days and I understand that it is difficult to hear such complicated messages in the moments after his death." In a prime time interview on Israel's Channel 2 Odeh defended the party's decision saying that Peres’ funeral was part of a “national day of mourning in which I have no place; not in the narrative, not in the symbols that exclude me, not in the stories of Peres as a man who built up Israel’s defenses.” Odeh did extend his condolences to Peres’ family and close friends but insisted that "The Jews need to understand our [Arab-Israelis’] pain too, otherwise it’s not real coexistence.”

Public Response

Both the abstention from the funeral and Odeh's statements drew widespread criticism from across Israeli society, left and right, Arab and Jewish. They also generated heated discussion about the meaning and timing of these acts, the different perspectives of Israel's Arab minority, whether this was a missed opportunity or an appropriate--if difficult--response on the part of Arab MKs, and how Odeh himself and Arab citizens are treated by the media (in Hebrew here and here).

Criticism was levied by Jewish public figures and journalists such as MK Herzog, Chairman of the Zionist Camp who stated the decision was "saddening and extremely disappointing" (Hebrew). Uri Misgav wrote an article titled "Odeh, Abu Mazen can attend [the funeral] and you can't?" (Hebrew) in which he claimed in this "terrible and saddening decision" Odeh "denied the entire Arab community formal representation" in that event and former Labor MK Uzi Baram wrote an article titled: After the Hadash Snub of Peres' Funeral, You Can Count Me Out. Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman even suggested to boycott MKs from the Joint List when the Knesset reconvenes at the end of October though whether this will be acted upon is yet to be seen as of the publishing of this post.  

Among Arab society opinions were divided. According to a special poll conducted on this issue, 59% of the 3,000 respondents claimed they were "upset" with the Joint List's decision, while 41% said they "supported" it. Meanwhile, a group of 20 Arab mayors came to the Peres Center for Peace to pay their respects during Peres' Shiva, and while some of them said they were "furious with the Joint List's decision", others claimed the visit "was not a criticism" of the Arab politicians.

A number of Arab activists harshly criticized Odeh for his decision, such as Prof. Riyad Agbariya, a well know academic leader from Ben Gurion University, who said "Odeh's behavior is wrecking the bridges with the Jewish society" and called on the Arab MKs in the Joint List "to resign from the Knesset or to re-learn what politics means" (Hebrew). The Abraham Fund Initiatives published a special statement that also criticized the decision, stating "this decision is incompatible with the notion of a shared society and the norms that should govern such society."

In a series of articles and op-eds listed below, Arab journalists and activists backed the Joint List's decision and criticized what they saw as superficial or hypocritical response of the Jewish public and media. Several pointing out that the funeral fell one day prior to the anniversary of the Events of October 2000, in which 13 Arabs were killed in clashes with Israeli police, and that no Jewish government official has ever attended these memorials.  A number of Jewish sources also published articles aiming to explain the Joint List's decision and even to claim it served the goal of "placing the opposing narrative of the Arab minority at the media and public center stage".  

In the media

Israelis, Don’t Tell Us Palestinians to Mourn Shimon Peres - Haaretz - Carol Daniel Kasbari - 10.07.16

After the Hadash Snub of Peres' Funeral, You Can Count Me Out Haaretz - Uzi Baram -  10.06.16

Now that Peres is gone, it's time the Zionist Left did some soul searching - +972 Magazine - Samah Salaime - 10.6.16

To All the Hypocrites Attacking Israeli Arab Politicians for Not Attending Peres’ Funeral - Haaretz - Jacky Khoury - 10.05.16

Arab leaders aren't learning the lessonIsrael Hayom – Pro. Eyal Zisser – 10.05.16 

Background of a Boycott  - Haaretz - Editorial - 10.05.16

Arab council heads on Joint List funeral boycott: ‘they will pay’Ynet News - Reut Rimerman - 10.02.16

Why Israel’s Arab statesman boycotted Peres’ funeral - +972 Magazine - Dahlia Scheindlin - 10.01.16

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