Report: Arab Knesset Members to Boycott Shimon Peres Funeral on Grounds That Israeli Peace Champion Was ‘Hawk of Settlement Enterprise’
by Ruthie Blum
The head of Israel’s Arab political bloc tweeted an explanation for his coalition’s decision to boycott Friday’s funeral of elder statesman Shimon Peres, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Thursday, a day before the event is scheduled to take place.
According to the report, MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List, wrote: “The memory of Peres in the Arab [Israeli] public is different from that of the narrative that has been recounted over the past few days, and I understand that such complex messages are hard to hear after someone’s death.”
He added that credit should be given to Peres for his peace efforts and support for the Arab public during the 1990s, but said that the same populace opposes “the hawk of the occupation and settlement construction, who nuclearized the Middle East, and unfortunately, also chose to support [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his policies.”
According to Walla, though known by Israel’s Jewish population as a “dove,” Peres is considered by the country’s Arab citizens to be a controversial figure, particularly since 1996, when he served as prime minister and defense minister. Peres entered the role after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – in November 1995 – and within a few months launched Operation Grapes of Wrath against terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
This caused harm to Peres’ election campaign. It was the first time that direct elections for prime minister were held in Israel, with two ballots, one for premier and one for a Knesset list. On election day, May 28, Israel’s Arab public punished Peres by not going out to vote. Thus, the campaign, which had begun with a strong lead by Peres over rival Netanyahu, ended with a victory for the latter based on a mere 30,000 votes. Desperate attempts by the pro-Peres camp to encourage Arab voters to go to the polls were met with apathy.
This attitude, said Walla, is what has made it difficult for the Joint List – comprised of four disparate factions — to formulate a condolence announcement.
Most of its members declined to confirm for Walla that they would not be attending Peres’ funeral. Many, however, gave interviews to Israeli news outlets in Arabic, and announced they would not be attending. One such party member, MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad), for example, told the news site Bukra that he would not attend the funeral of someone involved in the shedding of Palestinian blood and in the settlement enterprise.
MK Yousef Jabareen pointed to “Peres’ history of harming the rights of the Palestinians.” He added that though Peres “had been Rabin’s partner in the Oslo Accords, in the last decade, he has served as a cosmetic cover for the policies of the Israeli government.”
The Joint List occupies 13 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, making it the third largest faction in Israel’s parliament.