Friday, May 8, 2015

Ayman Odeh: A State that Offers Justice and Equality for All

Israel's 20th Knesset met for the first time this week. Ayman Odeh, a 40 year old lawyer from Haifa, the leader of the joint Arab Party slate in the Israeli Knesset--the third largest party in the 120 member Knesset with 13 seats--delivered a great speech to stake out his vision.

The speech invokes Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle in the United States in outlining a vision for Israel based on justice and equal rights for all.

Here's Lisa Goldman at +972 Magazine:
Odeh acknowledges with words of compassion the fears of the Jews, says explicitly that he is not a threat, and asks how he can be expected to recognize the fears of the Jews but ignore the plight of the Palestinians. 
What is perhaps so remarkable about his speech is that his vision of fundamental equality between all citizens, of tolerance and compassion, is one that most Jews around the world would find inspiring if it was, say, described in a speech by an African-American man at a rally in Baltimore, Ferguson, Selma or Washington, DC. Or by a North African man in Paris.
Odeh, however, is a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel, and he is describing his vision of a state that offers equality to all, but special ethnic privileges to none. A state for Jews and Arabs, but not a Jewish state. 
Can the Zionist Union or Meretz embrace that vision? Can the liberal Reform rabbis at congregations in New York, Los Angeles and the suburbs of Washington — rabbis who speak out against racism, who organize food drives for the homeless and clothing collections for the poor — also advocate for a state of Israel that is equally the rightful home of its Jewish and Arab citizens? That, I think, is poised to be one of the defining moral struggles of the liberal Jewish community in the coming years.