Ra’am Chairman MK Mansour Abbas manages to seduce the average Jewish Israeli citizen with his soft demeanor, as he frames his views using common Israeli beliefs and values, but he doesn’t actually share those same beliefs and values…
On Tuesday night, Ra’am Chairman MK Mansour Abbas was a guest on the Channel 12 main newscast, moment after he returned from a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II, and the first question to him from the host Danny Kushmaro was over a report that the two leaders had discussed a Palestinian State with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
Since joining the Lapid-Bennett coalition government, the Islamist party Ra’am is the lightning rod for most Israelis’ anxieties about the 21% of their country who are non-Jewish and mostly Muslim. Be it the Arab riots of last May in the Jewish-Arab cities, Arab-on-Arab violence, the crawling takeover of the Negev by illegal Bedouin settlements, the puzzling relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood-origin Islamist movement in Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood-origin Hamas, and, of course, the prospects of a future Palestinian State with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
All of the above wedge issues have not sprung up on June 13, when the new Israeli government with Ra’am in it was sworn in. Most of them have existed for decades. The difference is that Mansour Abbas and Ra’am represent the first time an unabashedly Arab- and Muslim-identified political party has held real executive power in the Jewish State, without even trying to play the role of submissive, “good” Arabs that was associated with Arab politicians in the past.
The Abdullah II – Abbas Meeting
In a political atmosphere of vehement, unrestrained clashes between left and right in the Knesset, the media, and social media, Abbas has turned out to be a consummate politician, skipping with ease over the variety of landmines scattered in his path. Such as in his Tuesday night’s appearance on News12.
“In a meeting, you say many things,” a jovial Abbas said and explained patiently: “It was an introductory meeting. Jordan holds a great value for the region but also to us, the Arab citizens of the state. Thousands of Israeli-Arab students study in Jordanian universities, and, of course, the entity that organizes the annual pilgrimage to Mecca is Jordan (the Hashemite royal family are direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed – DI).”
Kushmaro pushed some more, eager to squeeze something newsworthy out of his guest, who resisted with an almost maddening sense of comfort (he’s a chubby man, comfort looks good on him): “I was elected to promote the agenda of Israeli Arabs, and I still stick to this mission. All our international meetings and there have been many, with ambassadors, US Congress members – are coordinated with the prime minister and foreign minister. I do not use the international arena for attacks against Israel.”
Abbas vs. Amit Segal
Amit Segal, a regular on the News12 evening panel and probably the most-watched right-leaning reporter in Israel noted that Mansour Abbas has been courted by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting in Ramallah, but the Israeli Abbas has been avoiding him. DM Benny Gantz has met with the PA’s Abbas, as have coalition politicians from Meretz and Labor – but not Mansour Abbas.
A jovially smiling Mansour Abbas cut in skillfully: “What I’m learning here, Amit, is that if I meet him it causes a storm, and if I don’t meet him it also causes a storm…”
Advantage Mansour Abbas.
The fact is, the Israeli right, which ably stands up to Arab thugs such as Joint Arab List leader Ayman Odeh (who can forget the clash between him and Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben Gvir at the door of the hospital room of an Arab hunger striker a few weeks ago), has yet to figure out how to outmaneuver the Ra’am chairman in a public confrontation.
Abbas vs. Ben-Gvir
A week ago, MK Ben-Gvir was speaking from the podium during a session that was run by Abbas, who also serves as Deputy Speaker. Ben-Gvir attacked Abbas over news that an Islamist charity affiliated with Ra’am was congratulated by a Hamas official for helping orphans and widows in Gaza. “When you transfer money to child murderer – is that normal?” Ben-Gvir roared in the familiar manner that works very well with the right-wing choir.
Watch Abbas’s response in the clip below. His voice is so much quieter than his opponent’s that everyone, including Ben-Gvir, has to strain to hear him. You learn this trick in debate class, but I suspect Abbas was born with it.
“Itamar, I’ll give you an answer,” says the Deputy Speaker, who’s sitting barely six feet from Ben-Gvir. He then takes his time and calmly offers: “If you prove that a single shekel reached a terror organization, to a man of terror… There’s no proof there,” he continues, referring to the previous Friday night revelations on Channel 13 regarding the charity.
Ben-Gvir is not defeated, he responds with a counter-attack, but in the end, as the exchange between them continues for a little over five minutes, the viewer walks away with the impression that Abbas was right and Ben-Gvir was wrong simply because Abbas was calmer, friendlier, and kept referring to his opponent by his first name.
Abbas vs. The Temple Mount
Back in the News12 panel, Segal, whose demeanor is far more polished and relaxed than Ben Gvir’s, went on a final attack over the Temple Mount – a wedge issue that’s dear to many religious Israelis, although the vast majority of them never set foot there. “Is Ra’am’s position that there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount?” he asks, kind of out of the blue, eager to score a point with this slippery whale.
Mansour Abbas is as friendly and polite on this matter as he is on everything else (a friend wrote me Tuesday night: “He’s killing us politely.”).
“Amit, you want to open up the history books and discuss history?” he pivoted, using the reporter’s first name, always the first name. “We’ll do it some other time.”
But when Amit refuses to take the rain check, Abbas says decisively, but still very friendly: “Gentlemen, we are dealing here with a dangerous and explosive issue. History has taught us not to play games with these issues. The Al Aqsa mosque is a place of prayer for the Muslims, and the Jews pray to God at the Western Wall. I think it’s a proper arrangement at this stage.”
Abbas vs. Israel’s Undivided Capital
Finally, lest the reader comes to believe that I don’t think MK Mansour Abbas is a clever and dangerous enemy, here’s his most recent quote, from a Wednesday morning interview on Army Radio regarding the opening of an American consulate for PA Arabs only in Jerusalem: “The United States has already recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, there should be a balancing move. If this move contributes to peace – what could be better?”
Abbas vs. the Average Israeli
Here’s where I believe our problem with Mansour Abbas lies: he manages to seduce the average Jewish Israeli citizen with his soft demeanor, and he frames his views using common Israeli beliefs and values, views that he doesn’t actually share. He knows Israelis better than they know themselves. Watch out, someday he could become the next prime minister.