Ayman Odeh’s speech at the Haaretz Democracy Conference – English Translation

I had about an hour to pass at the airport, and ended up watching this speech by Ayman Odeh, chair of the Joint List, at Haaretz’s Democracy Conference. It’s really important, and I couldn’t find any translations to English, so I decided to translate it here. -MRZ. 

“…From Likud, from Yisrael Beitenyu, from the Zionist Union [party], and also me. All of the ministers in the recent government promised high promises to the children in [a] school [where] the representative of Yisrael Beiteynu unfolded their slogan, “Um el Fahem to Palestine.” He wants to strip from some of the Arab citizens of the State their citizenship and their homeland. There were Arab children there [in this school]. I looked at their eyes, and thought to myself: ”What must they be thinking?” I think that they must have thought: “What is the difference between me, an Arab from Lod, and an Arab from Um el Fahem? There is no difference.” But because the residents of Um el Fahem live next to the border, they can be moved. The children in Lod will wait on the shelf until the next ‘plan’ against their citizenship.

In this conference on democracy, I listened to the Minister from Likud, who forcefully attacked the Zionist Union for ”defending Arabs.’’ I thought to myself: ‘’If the might have succumbed, how shall the weak emerge unscathed?” [Quote from the Talmud], the Arab population.

I then listen to the representative form the Zionist Union, and I saw how he runs away from me. How he runs away from Arabs, how with this strategy, he is cutting off the very branch on which the “Center” sits. The Left, in the last 30 years, made its way into the government and was strengthened only when the Arab population was seen as a legitimate population in the State, when the Arab population voted for the Knesset, wanted to part of the citizenry, to influence.

The Right grasps that there is a great power here, which makes up 20% of the State’s citizens. So the Right wants to remove this group [Arab citizens] from the circles of legitimacy and influence.

The “Left” followed suit, seeking legitimacy among the Jewish majority via Jewish nationalism, not via the shared citizenship of all. Therefore, the Left will not succeed in returning to govern as long as the Arab population remains outside of the game.

The Right has continued is campaign [against the Arab population] to such an extent that it succeeded in raising the electoral threshold [a move which was seen by many as directly targeting the Arab parties, and which was the genesis for the Joint List -MRZ].

We, like all nations in the world, have religious and secular divisions, Left and Right, but here, we are all marginalized, we are all threatened. When I visit Um el Fahem, I don’t ask people whether they are voting for the Islamic Party or for Hadash [the Arab-Jewish communist party of which Odeh is a member -MRZ]. They are all threatened. When I sleep in the unrecognized villages in the Negev, I do not ask the people and their children there who they vote for, what their political stances are. They all live in villages without water and electricity.

We decided to unite. This unity is not a unity of withdrawal or separatism: We decided to take part of the politics of this State. We will bring 20% of the population, to put all of their weight, numerical and qualitative, in support of peace, democracy, equality, and social justice for everyone here.

Some call themselves “The National Camp.” Others call themselves, “The Zionist Camp.” We intend to be the basis for “The Democratic Camp” in this State. We think that the Arab population alone will not succeed to bring about peace, democracy and equality. With that, the Left in this State cannot bring peace, equality and democracy without the numerical and qualitative weight of the Arab population. Only together, can we succeed.

The thing that unites the Democratic Camp, the Joint List, is that we are for social just, but not only: we are, declaredly and publicly, for national justice for the two nations. Social justice and national justice. We do not live on a different planet. We can’t talk about “democracy” in Tel Aviv, while 20 kilometers from here, an entire nation lives, looking for a place under the sun, looking for the right to self-determination. The State, in which we are citizens, every day tramples the basic rights of the Palestinian Arab nation. This State cannot be democratic while it occupies an entire nation.

One of the weak points of the Joint List is that we are not enough of a joint Arab and Jewish list. This is one of our weak points. We aim that in the coming years, out list will be a joint Arab-Jewish list, and will be an example of the real democracy that we aspire towards here.

I want to conclude with the statement that there is no democracy without equality. There must social justice and national justice. Thank you all.”