Chairman of the Joint Arab List MK Ayman Odeh on Thursday refused to enter a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York because their office building also houses several Zionist organizations. According to the Jewish group, Odeh entered the lobby and refused to go further inside because of the Zionism that permeated the entire edifice.
Conference of Presidents Executive Vice President Malcolm Hoenlein came downstairs with MK Merav Michaeli to try and persuade Odeh to change his mind—probably forgetting that Michaeli’s party had recently changed its official name from “Labor” to “Zionist Camp.”
“I asked him, How do you go to the Knesset?” Hoenlein asked Odeh. “I said to him, I have no choice, I have to go up and tell the truth.”
Odeh later said in a statement: “I came here to represent the Arab public in Israel to American audiences. As their representative, I cannot in good conscience participate in meetings in the offices of organizations whose work displaces Arab citizens, just as in the Knesset, we do not participate in the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption.
“Throughout my visit to the United States, I have spoken with Jewish and Palestinian communities about the need for a joint struggle for our shared future, based on mutual respect and independence for both peoples. The Conference of Presidents’ refusal to meet in any other location shows a deep lack of understanding and respect.”
Conference of Presidents Chairman Stephen Greenberg and VP Hoenlein said in a statement that they are “deeply disturbed and shocked at [Odeh’s] refusal 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.”
The two Conference leaders added they “now understand the recent demand of the Mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salem, that Odeh leave his city because his presence promotes divisiveness.”
Salem shamed Odeh on a live street interview of Israel’s Channel 2 News, saying his party was destroying his city with its provocative rallies that damage property and keep away good paying Jewish customers.
Both Conference leaders suggested MK Odeh should “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.”