Dear Ayman Odeh: What Have You Done With Ayman Odeh?
Oh! Ayman Odeh! I was so impressed with you during the TV debate preceding our last elections less than a year ago. You spoke so calmly and with such apparent sincerity. If my memory does not deceive me, then I do believe you promised to work with Aryeh Deri to help better the lives of the “transparent” citizens of our country – Arabs and Jews – those who are held back by poverty and misfortune. You seemed like a breath of fresh air.
You were the star. You gave hope. And from my conversations with others, I wasn’t the only one who felt so. I loved what you were saying, Ayman Odeh, lapped up every word of reconciliation.
In the video of your opening statements, body language expert Alon Lauffman claims that you were stiff. He attributed this to the fact that Hebrew is not your native language and that you did not feel comfortable talking in that language. But I was listening to your words and not watching your body language and I don’t remember having found you rigid. Anyway, I don’t quite buy the suggestion that you do not feel comfortable speaking Hebrew – you grew up in Haifa and served on the Haifa municipal board, after all.
Later a conflict arose between you and Avigdor Liberman, shown in the video below. (If you don’t understand Hebrew, just watch a bit for the body language.)
He asked you why you are not running for office in the Palestinian Authority (PA) since you refer to yourself as a Palestinian and not an Israeli. I admit that I feel uncomfortable when Israeli Arabs call themselves “Palestinians”, but I was outraged for you on your behalf, Ayman Odeh, because I had already fallen under your spell. Liberman is a politician I have never liked and here he was showing his racism, full volume, for all to see and hear. I wanted to shout out and defend you. I respected the way you seemed to be working hard to hold back your anger as you made the effort to respond from a more patient and relaxed place. I felt for you.
I was really taken with you, Ayman. But Lauffman did not see it that way. His analysis at the time was that you were speaking words you did not actually believe in. When you said
I am talking about equality, about democracy, about living together, about all of us together. How can we create a different atmosphere, a different level of discourse? We want hope and we do not want incitement.
Lauffman felt then that you were not speaking your true beliefs. He may have been wrong about your fluency in Hebrew, but he may, actually, have nailed this one.
Perhaps today, given what I know of you now, it would be more accurate to say that I was less “taken with you” and more “taken in by you”. Lieberman was apparently not taken in. He asked you why you did not contest Hanin Zoabi’s comments that those who abducted and murdered the 3 Jewish boys, triggering Operation Protective Edge, were not terrorists and that Israeli soldiers are terrorists. Ayman Odeh, you sidestepped this question and never responded to it in any way, even when asked repeatedly, not only by Liberman, but also by the debate moderator. But I was so enchanted with you that I didn’t notice it back then.
Only now, reviewing tapes of the debate, I am reminded of your refusal to respond to the TV announcer’s questions when you were interviewed on the news a day after the tongue-lashing you received from Nazareth mayor Ali Salam. You were asked if you condemn the terror attacks against innocent Israeli (Jewish) citizens. He asked you more than once, getting clearly frustrated by your refusal to relate to the issue. The most you managed to say was something parve and not at all convincing about thinking about the children and feeling pain for those who were hurt.
Actually, you had already answered the question – you answered it last week, on Thursday and then again on Saturday, when you participated in demonstrations in Nazareth against Israel’s so-called “occupation” and (untrue) threats to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. These demonstrations became violent: tires and trash were set to fire. For a man who claimed before the elections that you want to be the Israeli Martin Luther King, you seem to have very much lost your way.
So, Ayman Odeh, where have you put the man who so impressed me and others during the pre-election television debate last February? Perhaps the more accurate question is: did you give us a live demonstration of taqiyyah, you know, that thing that Muslims tend to claim exists only in the biased minds of Islamophobes? Or maybe you just found that national politics is a much more complicated stage than the Municipality of Haifa and you cannot play Martin Luther King when your supporting actors prefer you represent Arabs who are not citizens of Israel.
This post originally appeared on Times of Israel.