Jewish Agency head raps Arab-Israeli lawmaker for refusal to meet Jewish leaders

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky criticized Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh for refusing to attend a meeting with American-Jewish leaders because it would be held in office space shared with the agency.

“It is unfortunate that members of Knesset from the Joint List are more interested in scoring cheap and expedient political points than they are in advancing the well being of their communities,” Sharansky said in a statement, referring to the refusal by Arab Joint List party head Ayman Odeh to meet with dozens of Jewish leaders from the  Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The Conference leaders were waiting in a meeting room in its offices when Odeh arrived at the building, and realized that the Conference is on the same floor as the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“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,” Odeh said in a statement after refusing to attend the meeting.

“Along with our core mission of ingathering the exiles of the Jewish people via Aliyah, The Jewish Agency is proud to serve all the citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, which we view as an integral part of our Zionist vision,” Sharansky said.

He added that thousands of Arab-Israeli families participate in Jewish Agency programs, including the Youth Futures mentorship program, which emphasizes schoolchildren in Israel’s Arab community; Masa Israel Journey and Project TEN, which run programs focused on Arab-Jewish coexistence and on serving underprivileged Arab citizens of Israel; and a Jewish Agency high school that opened this year for Bedouin youth in the Negev.

“Thousands of Arab Israelis have already found their way to The Jewish Agency’s programs and to the dedicated professionals and volunteers who run them. It is high time minister Odeh and his colleagues did the same.”

After his refusal, Odeh offered to meet in another venue, which was rebuffed by the Conference.

Odeh, 40, is the head of the Arab Joint List party, which won 13 seats in Israel’s national elections in March, making it the third largest faction in the Knesset. He successfully united four Arab parties to achieve that success.

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