Muslim Brotherhood: We Have ‘No Ideological or Organizational Connection’ With Islamist Movement in Israel
The Brotherhood’s statement comes as the Islamist movement’s political branch in Israel backs the country’s incoming coalition government
A dramatic political development occurred last week when the United Arab List, the political wing of the Southern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, signed a coalition agreement that paved the way to replacing longtime prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.
An Arab party supporting an Israeli government is a rare enough occurrence in itself. The last time this happened, Yitzhak Rabin was leading Israel, Bill Clinton was in the White House and Yasser Arafat headed the PLO. But what makes this alliance even more interesting is that the party, colloquially known by its Hebrew acronym, Ra’am, is an Islamist party traditionally considered to draw ideologically from the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni organization.
This has led media outlets to connect the two movements in articles that do little to shine a favorable light on the Brotherhood. An article on the Arab News website, for example, said that “analysts see the development as yet another example of a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired party putting power and self-interest above principles when it comes to the crunch.”
In response to these developments, the Muslim Brotherhood declared in a statement that: “The Brotherhood stresses that there is no connection – ideological or organizational – between it and this movement,” referring to the Islamic Movement in Israel.
Dr. Yechiel Shabiy, an expert on Islamist movements at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar-Ilan University, told The Media Line that the Brotherhood’s statement notwithstanding, Ra’am is “part of the Muslim Brotherhood. … Their principal beliefs are identical to those of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.”
Under the Brotherhood’s umbrella, explains Shabiy, there is a wide spectrum of attitudes. “The goal is one, a Muslim caliphate. That is the end goal,” he said, adding that various branches of the Brotherhood are willing to act within frameworks that stand in contradiction to their aspirations, if it allows them to advance the interests of their communities.
Shabiy points to the Islamic Movement in Israel as an example. Formed in 1971, the movement split into the Northern and Southern branches after a disagreement over whether to participate in Israel’s national elections. Neither sees Israel as a legitimate sovereign, he says, but the Southern Branch chose to enter the political arena for the sake of advancing its agenda, and it is represented in the Knesset by Ra’am.
The Northern Branch, on the other hand, refused to participate. It was ultimately outlawed in 2015, and its leader, former Umm al-Fahm Mayor Sheikh Raed Salah, is currently in prison in Israel on charges of incitement to terror. His deputy, Kamal Khatib, is currently under arrest for incitement.
The Media Line reached out to Ra’am officials for comment on their connection to the Muslim Brotherhood and its latest statement, but no comment was received as of press time.
The goal is one, a Muslim caliphate. That is the end goal
Shabiy believes the Muslim Brotherhood’s statement of disavowal likely will have no impact on Ra’am and its policies. The move received the approval of the Islamic Movement’s religious leaders, he says, “and at the end of the day, what he [Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas] is trying to do now is to further the interests of the Israeli Arab sector as he sees them.”
However, Wael Awad, an Israeli Arab journalist from the north of Israel, suggests that the statement may have an effect during the next election.
“We may see [Arab parties] Hadash and Balad using this statement as part of their campaign,” he told The Media Line. The parties may use the statement to drive away possible Ra’am voters who have supported the party because of its connection with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Awad thinks the Brotherhood’s disavowal is a result of Ra’am going too far with its pragmatic approach by agreeing to form a government with right-wing Israelis such as Yamina party chairman Naftali Bennett, slated to become Israel’s premier on Sunday.
“How will the Muslim Brotherhood explain to people in Egypt, for example, or Jordan, their supporters, that this man [Abbas], the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Israel, sits at the same table with Bennett and Liberman?” he said. Yisrael Beitenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman is another right-wing politician and a member of the recently forged coalition.
Ra’am reportedly joined in the agreement in exchange for a series of pledges by the coalition to advance the interests of the country’s Arab sector in the civic realm. Notably, this includes budgetary commitments and a promise to give the issue of crime and violence ailing the sector its due attention. The move, however, is controversial within the Arab population in Israel.
Awad, for example, is highly critical of the agreement behind Ra’am’s support for the new coalition.
“It’s a deal that can be summed up in a few words: Ignore the injustice committed against the Palestinian people … and we’ll give you money here and there,” he says.
The journalist says Abbas cynically exploited loyalty to Muslim and conservative values to woo voters, only to later betray them by forming an alliance with the Israeli right. Abbas’ touting of his loyalty to Islam, while at the same time agreeing to sit with key supporters of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is nothing short of hypocrisy, Awad says.
It’s a deal that can be summed up in a few words: Ignore the injustice committed against the Palestinian people … and we’ll give you money here and there
Abbas stressed throughout the election campaign and afterward that he would seek to form an alliance with whoever promises to advance the civic interests of the Arab community in Israel the most, including the right. Abbas may have outspokenly put aside national Palestinian matters for the sake of civic interests, but this remains a key point of contention between him and his critics.
At the same time, there are those who support the move.
Ra’am garnered four Knesset seats in the last election, slightly more than 167,000 votes. On the Ra’am Facebook page in the post declaring its part in the coalition, many comments are congratulatory and well-wishing. Siaf Atma, for example, commented, “Well done. You have shown us all how to play the political game pragmatically… and not with empty slogans. Mansour Abbas has proven to everyone that he is a leader and not a ‘traditional’ Knesset member.”