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columnIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Hamas widows, orphans and ties to the Israeli coalition

A report on the transfer of Ra’am Party money to a “charity” in Gaza is being underplayed by a government bent on passing the state budget and staying intact.

Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at their headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. Photo by Flash90.
Ra'am leader Mansour Abbas and party members at their headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021. Photo by Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Given the fact that the Arab-Israeli Ra’am Party is openly Islamist and associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the revelation on Friday evening by Channel 13’s Ayala Hasson that it’s been funneling money into Gaza to finance Hamas “widows and orphans” wasn’t as shocking as it should have been. Nor did it make sufficient waves.

That rival news outlets didn’t wish to pounce on the scoop may be understandable from a commercial standpoint. But had the item been related to a scandal surrounding any member of the opposition—particularly, its leader, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—bolstering the competition wouldn’t have been an editorial concern.

Still, it’s the so-called right-wing flank of the government that in this case deserves derision for not causing the kind of stink that that the exposé warrants.

The story exposed by Hasson, based on an in-depth investigation conducted by the pro-Israel advocacy group Ad Kan and the Choosing Life Forum for bereaved families, was that Ra’am member Razi Issa, who heads an anti-Israel “charity” with direct ties to terrorism—named “48,” after the year of the nakba (“catastrophe”) of Israel’s establishment—has been providing funds to Hamas through the organization. Because Issa was involved in the coalition negotiations relating to Ra’am’s budget, it’s possible that the Israeli taxpayer is unwittingly footing this literal and figurative “bill of goods.”

When asked by Hasson about compliments heaped on him recently by senior Hamas official Razi Hamed, Issa replied, “All of Gaza is grateful for our treatment of widows and orphans.”

Without pointing out that many of the women and children in question are in a sorry state due to the terrorist “martyrdom” of the men in their lives, Hasson pressed, “Widows and orphans I can understand, but what’s a senior Hamas official thanking you for?”

“How should I know?” he retorted huffily.

Ra’am responded with a statement that the “association [48] is registered and recognized by the United Nations as an organization that provides humanitarian services to the poor, the needy and the victims of wars and disasters all over the world, regardless of race, gender, nationality or religion. … [It] has an office in Gaza, which operates according to the law to ensure that all aid is transferred to the needy and orphans directly and without intermediaries, [and its] staff takes great care not to conduct any political dialogue with anyone.”

It further insisted that Issa “had nothing to do with the negotiations on the formation of the coalition, and his presence was together with many individuals from all the parties who wanted to [take part in] the historic moment of signing the coalition agreements.”

Sounds just great. The trouble is that the organization’s West Bank branch in Tulkarm is run by Islamic Jihad member Azhar Shaharur, whose brother is serving 29 life sentences in an Israeli prison for his participation in the 2002 Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya.

That’s not all. Issa was revealed to have had talks with finance ministry officials on the amount of coalition money that would be given to Ra’am through the offices of charity 48 in the Arab-Israeli village of Kafr Qassem.

To grasp the gravity of the situation, a bit of memory-refreshing is in order.

Ahead of the last Knesset elections, Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas decided that it was time for an Arab party to have some political clout in the Jewish state beyond siding with its enemies. To this end, he split from the Joint List bloc and ran on a platform that put the welfare of the country’s Arab citizens above the glorification of Palestinians and their terrorist methods.

This is how he put it in Hebrew, at least. When orating in Arabic, he made sure to stress his movement’s more radical ideology.

His campaign succeeded. Ra’am garnered four seats, not only crossing the electoral threshold, but becoming a so-called “kingmaker.” Indeed, without Ra’am’s agreement to join the coalition that was being cobbled together by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, Israelis would have been sent back to the polls.

The rest may be history, but the government is faced with another major hurdle: the state budget. Though it passed its first reading in September, it can only be enacted after two additional readings in the plenum. If the Nov. 14 deadline for final passage is not met, the Knesset will automatically disband, forcing another round of elections.

Nobody in the coalition, from Ra’am to Yamina, wants it to fall, which is why Lapid keeps insisting that all squabbles be kept to a minimum until the budget is a done deal. His investment in “unity” is even more pronounced than that of his partners, of course, since as long as the government remains intact, he stands to replace Bennett as prime minister in 2023.

And he makes no bones about it. “We should ignore the background noise and continue to move forward. Never to stop. Not take our eyes off the target,” he wrote on Facebook on Friday.

In addition, Lapid is on the left side of the coalition. As such, he’s far more interested in guaranteeing that Netanyahu never return to the helm than in findings by Ad Kan and the Choosing Life Forum on dubious dealings with NGOs in Gaza.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s reaction to the report is far worthier of note.

“We have looked into the issue,” she told Channel 12 on Sunday. “Not a single shekel of state money goes to this association in any way. The state transfers the budget to local authorities and offices, not to the association. The partnership with Ra’am isn’t simple. This government was formed because we were stuck in a political quagmire and endless rounds of elections. The State of Israel operates with complete freedom in the Gaza Strip, and we won’t hesitate to operate there militarily if it becomes necessary.”

What an answer. It’s by no means the one that she would have given if she weren’t herself waiting with bated breath for the Knesset to approve the budget’s final readings.

By that time, within less than two weeks from now, it will be too late to change the clauses relevant to Ra’am’s coffers. And Hamas will have the Israeli government to thank for it.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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