Arab Alliance Rises as Force in Israeli Elections

Arab Alliance Rises as Force in Israeli Elections

IBILLIN, Israel — Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s nationalist foreign minister, stared coolly at the Arab politician sitting at the opposite end of a glass table during a televised election debate.

“Why did you come to this studio, why not to Gaza, or Ramallah? Why are you even here?” asked Mr. Lieberman, who frequently calls Israel’s Arab citizens traitors and suggests that their towns be transferred to Palestinian control. “You are not wanted here; you are a Palestinian citizen.”

The politician, Ayman Odeh, the leader of an alliance of Arab parties formed to contest Israeli elections on Tuesday, appeared unruffled.

“I am very welcome in my homeland,” he said, a subtle dig at Mr. Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. “I am part of the nature, the surroundings, the landscape,” he said in Arabic-accented Hebrew.
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The clash in late February on Israel’s popular Channel 2, during the only debate of the election season, was a sideshow to the larger electoral struggle unfolding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief challenger, Isaac Herzog. Neither Mr. Netanyahu nor Mr. Herzog appeared at the debate. But it was a breakthrough moment for Mr. Odeh, 40, a little-known lawyer from Haifa who has never served in Parliament yet is suddenly poised to be a power broker in the formation of Israel’s next government.

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