The past week was one of the hardest time periods in the short history of the Arab Joint List, and especially for its chairman, Ayman Odeh. It all began on Dec. 16 when Adal Amar, the head of Maki (the Communist Party faction within Hadash, which itself is part of the Joint List alliance), publicized a statement congratulating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for conquering Aleppo. The statement generated a tempest even among the supporters of the Joint List. Two days later, it was revealed that Knesset member Basel Ghattas (of the Balad Party, also part of the Joint List) is suspected of smuggling cell phones to Palestinian security prisoners in the Israeli Ketziot jail; this, of course, delivered a significant blow to Odeh’s attempts at building bridges between Jews and Arabs. But an even more severe a problem from Odeh’s vantage point was that sections of the Arab sector also wondered aloud whether their Arab Knesset representatives were indeed serving the interests of Arab citizens of Israel, or whether their representatives had, instead, become a millstone around their necks.
There is no doubt that members of the Balad movement — one of the four parties that make up the Joint List — are viewed by the Arab public as the “bad boys” of the forced political union. The party’s founder, former Knesset member Azmi Bishara, even fled to Qatar in 2007 after coming under suspicion of transferring information to Hezbollah. Three Balad Knesset members today — Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas — have long since adopted a radical platform that differs greatly from the positions of the other Joint List members. Hardly a month goes by without a public storm initiated by one of the Balad members, who are responsible for creating more and more deep fissures in the Joint List, in the Arab sector and in Jewish-Arab relations. In an attempt to maintain the Joint List’s political unity, Arab Knesset members from other factions feel compelled to toe Balad’s line.