By Ray Hanania
Ahmad Tibi is no ordinary Palestinian. A citizen of Israel, Tibi is an elected member of the Knesset and serves as a deputy speaker, a rank earned by the strength of Israel’s growing Arab vote. More importantly, Tibi is not timid. He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, or a racist a racist. He has a history of standing up to Israeli society’s racist behavior and practices.
His public rhetoric has empowered Israel’s large Palestinian population, which casts more than 15 percent of the votes in elections and continues to strengthen. That contradicts Israel’s efforts to undermine their vote by adopting laws that exclusively place burdensome hurdles on them exclusively.
Last week, as Tibi challenged laws imposed by Israel’s increasingly right-wing government that restrict the rights of non-Jews, other members libeled him, calling him a “terrorist” and, with much the same tone that American racists would often use toward African Americans, told him to “go back to your home.”
The week before, in a column in Haaretz, Tibi challenged US President Donald Trump’s so-called “peace team,” which includes Jared Kushner, biased Middle East liaison Jason Greenblatt and anti-Arab US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. According to him, they embrace extremist and pro-settlement policies that strip Palestinians of fundamental rights inside Israel.
Israel’s settlements are not only illegal, but racist communities built only for Jews on lands stolen from Palestinian Christians and Muslims. There are more than 200 illegal Israeli settlements, with more than 600,000 Jewish settlers.
Tibi scoffed that the three men, who have been pictured with Israeli Prime Minister Benajamin Netanyahu and Israel’s US Ambassador Ron Dermer, were not qualified to be “mediators” in Israel-Palestine negotiations. Right away, Tibi was criticized and falsely accused of singling them out because they are Jews. But that is not the case.
“The five of them have lived for decades or all their life in the US. The five of them are committed right-wing Zionists. The five of them have supported Israeli settlements in occupied territory, politically and financially; the five of them oppose the two-state solution; the five of them oppose equality between Israelis and Palestinians; and the five of them identify with the most recalcitrant sectors of the Republican Party,” Tibi wrote in his Haaretz column last month.
Tibi went further and blasted Kushner for attacking Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kushner asserted in an interview with Al-Quds Arabic newspaper that Abbas was more concerned with his political survival than with making peace with Israel.
Tibi has been a fighter all of his life. As a Palestinian in Israel’s apartheid-like so-called “democracy,” he is constantly challenged by Israelis who have more rights than Palestinians living in Israel.
Born in Tayibe, a village to the north of Tel Aviv, in 1958, Tibi graduated with honors from his medicine course at Hebrew University in 1983. He did his residency at Hadassah Hospital in 1984 and worked there for three more years until he was challenged by Israeli racism. In 1987, Israel’s nascent apartheid practices caught up with Tibi, when an Israeli security guard who had emigrated from America accosted him as he entered the hospital.
Those Palestinians like me who have been through Israel’s checkpoint harassments know what I am talking about. Israelis go out of their way to confront, harass and taunt Palestinians in Israel, constantly questioning their very presence.
Tibi and the security guard got into a scuffle and Tibi was fired, of course. Israelis are often given light sentences for committing the worst crimes, including murder, while Palestinians are given the stiffest sentences for the least significant crimes.
He went on to found the Arab Movement for Change, known as Ta’al in Arabic. Tibi, through his foundation, challenges not only Israel’s increasingly reckless and extremist government, but also the inaction of the Palestinian community in Israel, which does a lot of talking and far less “doing.”
The growing Palestinian population in Israel frightens the government there and fuels the racist right-wing extremism that seeks to undermine them.
During the 2015 elections, Netanyahu used the increasing power of the Palestinian vote in Israel to scaremonger more Israelis into voting, in order to offset the rising Arab influence. In response, Tibi has repeatedly predicted that, if a two-state solution is impossible to achieve, a one-state Israel could one day have an Arab prime minister; a position he said he would run for and win.
Tibi could find himself in an even more influential position once Trump unveils his much-heralded “ultimate deal” and it falls flat on its face, as is expected.
Since the Israeli-inspired collapse of the peace process, the viability of a Palestinian government has been seriously questioned and Abbas’ influence has weakened significantly. At some point, the Abbas government will collapse. When that happens, however, a new Palestinian leadership led perhaps by Palestinians living in Israel would find a stronger footing to challenge Israel’s anti-peace provocations.
Tibi is one of that movement’s strongest voices.