Last Thursday the Knesset TV channel interviewed one of the deputy speakers. One of the questions he was asked was whether he had been present in the plenary hall when all hell broke loose the previous day over MK Haneen Zoabi’s speech following the signing of the reconciliation agreement with Turkey.
“No”, he answered, “I was in the MKs’ restaurant talking to some people, and watched what was going on on a TV screen.”
“What would you have done in that situation had you been the chairman of the sitting?” the interviewer asked.
“Even though what Zoabi said was despicable, I would have done my best to let her speak, and would have sent those disturbing her out of the hall. Trying to shut her mouth, no matter how provocative what she says is, is contrary to democracy.”
You are probably nodding your head, and saying to yourselves, “Well, what do you expect from those lefties.” Some of you may add “traitors.” But the deputy speaker in question was no other than Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi). He added that if Zoabi has broken the law by saying what she did, she should be tried in court, but until that happens, she has a right to say what she believes, and she should be enabled to do so.
Smotrich – who is anathema to many left-wingers due to his past homophobic activities, his explanation for why he is calling for the separation of Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards and such sayings as “someday, Jerusalem will spread all the way to Damascus” – is consistent on this issue. He is one of the right-wingers who opposes the bill, proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and promoted by the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, that will enable 90 MKs to suspend or expel fellow MKs who have acted, after being elected, contrary to the provisions of article 7(a) of Basic Law: the Knesset, which deals with grounds for disqualifying lists and individuals from running in elections.
Some say that Smotrich has reservations about the bill because he realizes it could be used against him and not only against Arab MKs. However, like Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Smotrich argues that the problem is not the absence of legal grounds to sue those who act contrary to the provisions of article 7(a), but the leniency of the Supreme Court. In the interview for the Knesset channel he actually referred to the bill as anti-democratic.
But to return to the events in the Knesset last Wednesday. Zoabi, who throughout managed to keep her calm, pointed out that Israel’s agreement to pay compensation to the families of the nine Turks who were killed in the course of the Israeli seizure of the Mavi Marmara back in 2010 proves that Israel recognizes that the nine were not terrorists, and that consequently she too deserves an apology and compensation for six years of accusations and attacks against her for having sailed on the Marmara.
From the very opening of her speech MK Oren Hazan started heckling, calling upon the Druse chairman of the sitting, Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu), to throw Zoabi out, and hurling personal insults at her, as he habitually does.
However, all hell broke loose when Zoabi declared that the Israeli soldiers had murdered the nine Turks, though she was careful not to call them murderers. In reaction MKs from most sections of the political spectrum yelled obscenities at her, and had it not been for the Knesset ushers they would most likely have beaten her up.
Channel 2 reporter Amit Segal commented that the MKs attacked Zoabi as if she were a voodoo doll.
Zoabi was finally removed from the podium because she refused to apologize for using the word “murdered.” But she left the plenary hall victorious, insofar as her provocation and the MKs’ reactions to it supplied ammunition to Israel’s enemies both at home and abroad, while embarrassing Israel’s allies, who support “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The sight of MK Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid), a former police commissioner and deputy minister of finance in the 19th Knesset, hollering at Zoabi at the top of his voice, in a frenzy, “filth” and “scum of the earth” (tinofet, hel’at adam), was embarrassing.
Certainly Zoabi’s use of the word “murdered” is objectionable to any patriotic Israeli, who believes that the IDF is “the most moral army on earth. However, in all likeliness had the case of the Marmara reached an international court, the seizure of the ship might well have been declared a breach of international law, and the killing of the nine Turks an act of murder.
What should the reaction have been? The MKs could have chosen to walk out of the plenary hall while Zoabi spoke, or alternatively they could have remained silent, and then proceeded to attack her elegantly from the podium, reminding her that two years ago she failed to use the same terminology when describing the abduction and murder by Palestinian terrorists of the three young Israelis in Gush Etzion.
But alas, we are not elegant, and our reactions are all too frequently foolish and hysterical.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.