Muhammad Majadla, head of Nas Radio’s news department, Channel 12 commentator and weekly columnist for Globes, said on April 3 that “today, Ra’am [The United Arab List Party] is planning an important speech, they say, by [party chairman] Mansour Abbas, in Hebrew and Arabic. On the second evening of Ramadan.”
A few hours later, Majadla reported: “The speech by the Ra’am chairman will not be broadcast this evening, even though it was already filmed, because of internal disagreements about the content. As I understand it, the Islamic Movement thinks Mansour got a bit carried away in some of his statements about the terror wave, and they are fearful of criticism in the Arab public.”
Abbas, who also serves as deputy head of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, voiced condemnations of the deadly terror attacks in Israel during the second half of March, as follows:
• March 22: “Ra’am condemns the criminal attack in Beersheva, and sends its condolences to the victims’ families while wishing a full recovery to the wounded. The Arab citizens of the country are law-abiding and deplore anyone who uses violence against other citizens. Ra’am calls on all citizens to maintain the common and delicate fabric of life, show responsibility, and promote a tolerant discourse in this difficult hour.”
• March 27: “I condemn the despicable crime in Hadera. This is vile Daesh [Islamic State] terror that does not represent the Arab society in Israel, which seeks to uphold the rule of law and the values of respect for the sanctity of human life, ordinary Arab and Jewish life, and the values of peace and tolerance. My condolences to the families of the victims, and I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”
• March 29: “In Bnei Brak today a terrible and deplorable crime of terror was perpetrated against innocent civilians. I take part in the sorrow of the families and wish a full recovery to the wounded. All of us stand together against a murderous wave of terror, all of us without distinction. The streets of Israel’s cities are full of Arab and Jewish citizens, and those who engage in a despicable killing spree do not distinguish and do not differentiate between blood and blood.”
Abbas repeated his condemnation of the terror attacks in interviews with the Israeli media.
At the same time, his condemnations were not posted on the official Facebook pages of Ra’am; the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which Ra’am represents in the Knesset; or of the Islamic Movement’s Institute for Religious Law and Islamic Studies.
Nor did the Islamic Movement’s leader Safwat Freij or its former leader Hamed Abu Dabas issue any condemnations.
Ra’am Knesset members Walid Taha and Ayman Khatib did not disseminate Abbas’s condemnation of the terror in Ra’am’s name, and Ra’am MK Mazen Ghnaim issued only a condemnation of the March 22 Beersheva attack.
Analysis and assessment
In Israeli political circles, there is disagreement about the sincerity of Abbas’s condemnations of terror.
Some see them as reflecting a moderate and courageous line of Ra’am and the Islamic Movement, while others view them as no more than a propaganda exercise.
The condemnations do not jibe with Ra’am’s and the Islamic Movement’s consistent support for Israel’s security prisoners, most of whom are convicted terrorists. They portray them as freedom fighters and heroes, and the Islamic Movement funnels aid to them through its charity organization.
The fact that the condemnations were voiced almost exclusively by Abbas probably points to disagreements among the senior Ra’am and Islamic Movement leadership about the policy toward the armed jihad operations—or “wave of terror.”
By giving Abbas alone the task of condemning the attacks, Ra’am and the Islamic Movement want to have their cake and eat it, too, paying lip service to partnership in the government coalition without requiring the leaders of the movement—and particularly its institutions of religious law—to take an official stance against armed jihad.
Still at the top of Ra’am’s order of priorities are the perks of being part of the coalition—a large budget for the Arab sector, influence over outline plans, recognition of Bedouin communities in the Negev, and the fight against crime. At this stage, they have no interest in breaking up the coalition. They believe that, with the condemnations, they can overcome the challenge to its stability posed by the security incidents.
IDF Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.