What Happened to Hadash in Rehovot and Baka al-Garbiya?
Today Ofer Cassif was supposed to speak in a hall rented out by B’nai Brith in Rehovot as part of the vigourous campaign being run by the communist party, Hadash. But the meeting was cancelled due to objections to the appearance of Ofer Cassif.
B’nai Brith cancelled the rental agreement with the party, arguing that they did not know it was going to be used for an election meeting and the organization’s constitution prohibits all political activities. That is not exactly true, because just last August, for example, B’nai Brith hosted a meeting with MK Shelley Yechimovich. In any case, it appears that no other hall was willing to rent their space to Hadash for this political campaign meeting and in the end it was held as a parlour session in a private home.
Is it okay to get a political meeting cancelled at a private venue because you do not like the party or candidate running it?
It was one thing to ask for Ofer Cassif to be denied a stage when he was banned from running for elections by the Knesset Election Committee. However, when this ban was reversed by the Supreme Court, there was no reason not to carry on and hold the meeting. Was there?
Shai Glick, CEO of the human rights organization Betzalmo, who pressed for the event to be cancelled, told me that his opposition was toward Cassif and not the party:
It does not make sense that a man who supports harming Israeli soldiers and calls people cancerous and neo-Nazi scum would be able to speak in a public place such as B’nai Brith.
In an article in Arim-Rehovot, Cassif denied having called for harming Israeli soldiers and even threatened Glick with a libel suit. I might wonder if he actually did say that if he does, in fact, take the case to court. However, he totally ignored the claim that he referred to anyone as cancerous or neo-Nazi scum and I sincerely doubt he is going to be suing anyone.
In that same article, Hadash is quoted as saying:
[This is] another instance of silencing voices critical of the Netanyahu government that is conducting a campaign of incitement against Arab citizens. We will not be silenced. The general public is invited to attend the tens of events in which our candidates are participating around the country.
I find this to be a curious statement to make in light of the fact that MK Ayman Ouda, head of Hadash, cancelled his own appearance at an event last Saturday (23 March) in which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Deputy Director of the Mossad Ram Ben Barak were to be on a panel with him (and Issawi Frej, an MK from Meretz). The event took place in the Arab town of Baka al-Garbiya.
It seems that Ouda has no problem silencing himself on particular occasions, whether he initiated this decision on his own or under pressure from members of his party or in response to supposedly mass protests in town, as he claims. If he criticizes silencing from one quarter, he needs to criticize silencing from all quarters. Just my opinion, FWIW.
Consistent with Olmert’s vision of Arab citizens who are fully integrated within Israeli economic and cultural life, he told me that he happily accepted the invitation to participate in the Shabbat-tarbut (Culture on Shabbat) event.
I founded the Arab Economic Council and the first Conference for Arab Affairs in order to improve government attitudes toward the Arabs of Israel. It is essential to bring a message to the Arab population, that they are citizens with equal rights. It is important that this message gets through.
Olmert heard about the protest that took place outside the building, but there was no evidence of it inside the filled hall and he said that the atmosphere was pleasant and the audience, that included a number of Jews, was interested in what he had to say. “Ouda was wrong not to attend the event,” he added. “Especially if he wants us to believe that he is really interested in promoting equality and tolerance,” I thought to myself.
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, also of Hadash, told Arim-Rehovot:
Cancelling the event in Rehovot is a dangerous instance of giving in to incitement and divisiveness. Attempts at silencing will not work and our voice will continue to disturb the peace-of-mind of the racists.
Permit me to reword her statement:
Cancelling his attendance at the event in Baka al-Garbiya is a dangerous instance of giving in to incitement and divisiveness. Attempts at silencing will not work and the voices of those who truly want to work together to building a strong Israeli society that includes Jews and Arabs will continue to disturb the peace-of-mind of the racists who claim to be otherwise.
Sadly, it appears that boycotting political campaign events is becoming a modus operandi, with Meretz refusing to participate in a debate organized by the Ariel University Students’ Council for Wednesday because it is in Ariel, and Meretz and Labour refusing to take part in a debate organized by the Hebrew University Law Student Association because Otzma member Itamar Ben Gvir is one of the panelists.
You know how this starts, but you never know how it ends.