Israeli Arab's rising voice of opposition
Islamist views of Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement of the North, worry many Israeli Jews.
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Similarities between Salah's group and another controversial Islamic party are numerous. In the Palestinian territories, Hamas's political wing swept to power in elections nine months ago largely because so many people saw them as a party of clean hands.Skip to next paragraph
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To Israeli authorities, the similarities were a little too striking. In 2003, Salah was arrested on suspicion of raising millions of dollars for Hamas. He was released two years later in a deal that bars him from going abroad and requires him to check in with an officer every month. The charges against him were a "mockery," Salah says.
Still, they made him even more popular. When he came back a year ago this summer, his image was everywhere – on posters and children's T-shirts.
"This definitely strengthened his position and popularity within the Arab sector," explain Professor Elie Rekhess, director of the Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Studies at Tel Aviv University. "If there were a poll run today to establish who is the most popular leader in Israel, he would be up there. His outer appearance might be misleading, because he's very quiet and low-keyed, but he's very powerful. He certainly sees political Islam as a major factor in the formulation in the coming years in Israel, and he sees his party as having a strong say."
One prominent fear that has surfaced among Israelis is that Palestinian Arabs, be they residents of the territories or Israeli citizens, will become a majority in the areas under Israel's control and demand a one-state solution to the conflict. This demographic dilemma has driven the Israeli political dynamic for the past few years.
Now, the tenuous state of Arab- Jewish relations within Israel's borders looks ready to become more unsettled.
The nation's eyes have been focused on Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian-born Israeli politician who has advocated a "transfer" of Arabs who live near the Green Line, Israel's 1967 border, into the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Lieberman and his Israel Beitainu ("Israel is Our Home") party are about to join the Kadima-led government.
One of the prime targets of Lieberman's controversial plan would be Umm el-Fahm.
"Lieberman sitting in the government," says Itamar Inbari, the Arab affairs reporter for the Maariv newspaper, "is as if saying 'yes' to transfer and to marginalizing the Arabic sector."
Salah says that Lieberman's entry into the Israeli government does not bode well for the region.
"The participation of Lieberman in this government will only add to its confusion, and will lead it to take quick and irresponsible decisions," he says. "I would not be surprised that the current government would welcome the participation of Lieberman. And if this happens, then the whole region is going to face big difficulties and surprises, whose hardness and consequences no one is aware of but God almighty."