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February 10, 2022 6:16 pm

Israeli Arab Party Leader Abbas Dismisses Charge of ‘Apartheid’ State: ‘Our Fate Here Is to Live Together’

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Mansour Abbas, who heads the Raam faction, attends a hearing Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Israeli Arab leader Mansour Abbas — head of the Islamic Ra’am party, which last year joined the country’s governing coalition — said he would not use the word “apartheid” to describe relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

Asked at an online conversation organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about hearing that label applied to the Jewish state, Abbas said: “I would not call it apartheid.”

“I am in the coalition, and if I want to be inside the government, I could be in the government too,” Abbas emphasized, according to comments translated from Hebrew.

“I usually try not to be judgmental. I’m not trying to say you are racist or the state is racist, or this is an apartheid state or not an apartheid state,” he explained. “My role as a political leader is to try to bridge the gaps, improve the distortions and to create more justice not only between Jews and Arabs, but also among Arabs and among Jews.”

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Abbas’ comments follow a report last week by the NGO Amnesty International accusing Israel of practicing apartheid. The report claimed that “Israel imposes a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control: in Israel and the OPT (‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’), and against Palestinian refugees, in order to benefit Jewish Israelis.”

Israeli leaders flatly rejected those charges, which Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called “divorced from reality.”

At the same time, Abbas said at Thursday’s virtual event, he was not disregarding Amnesty’s findings or those by other human rights organizations.

“This is an opportunity for us to look at what is happening, to be introspective, to see what we can fix and what we can change,” he proposed.

A dentist by profession and an advocate for Israel’s Arab community, Abbas made history last year when he led Ra’am to become the first Arab party ever to join Israel’s governing coalition.

“Everything I am trying to do is historical,” Abbas contended. “My role is to try and show Jews and Arabs a new way in which they can live together and in which each side will realize itself as the collective and as individuals within this framework which is called the State of Israel. I am not trying to please one group or another. I seek to show Arabs and Jews how to live together in the context of Israel.”

Abbas described himself as an Arab, a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a citizen of the Israeli state — adding that when he was elected to the Knesset, he was looking for a partnership and to make change from within.

“These identities, the national and religious, they can live together, they can connect each other, based on acceptance of the other,” Abbas said. “I am not trying to find out who is guilty. I am trying to find out who can be a partner, for us to work together as we all agree that in many fields, we may have disagreements.”

Back in November, the Knesset member was criticized by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group for telling a business conference in Tel Aviv that the “state of Israel was born a Jewish state and that’s how it will remain.”

“I tried to say to both Arab and Jewish society that the real discussion is not about the identity of the state — that exists, that has been accomplished. That’s a fact,” Abbas asserted. “But the real discussion should be within the state of Israel; the definition of it, in my view, it will not change. But what is the place of the Arab minority inside the State of Israel and inside of Israeli civic identity? That is the question that will decide what Israel is going to be like.”

Abbas stated that he was “proud” to be able to create this partnership with the government.

“We brought a lot of budgets to the Arab society to education, to integrate workers in high tech and to farmers,” he said. “I’m very proud that we have been able to give people hope that Jews and Arabs can trust each other.”

Abbas noted that in some public opinion polls, 60 percent of Arabs surveyed support his party agenda, and that he has been winning over voters from other Arab parties like the Joint List. The Ra’am leader is confident that if the party can demonstrate achievements, it will earn more than 85 percent of the Arab public’s support in Israel.

“Our fate here is to live together and we can decide how we want to live together: With fights, conflict, hatred, or with those who have already offered peace, security and tolerance,” he said. “I think we all inside ourselves know what the answer is.”

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