(photo credit: )
Ya'acov Cohen (United Torah Judaism) earned the dubious title of becoming the first MK to be assaulted in the Knesset, when he was slapped in the face by a Justice Ministry official Tuesday.
Amnon Dehartuch, an attorney for the Justice Ministry who is in charge of allocating budgets for religious communities, slapped Cohen during a heated argument outside a meeting of the Education Committee.
The Knesset Guard announced that Dehartuch was permanently banned from the Knesset in light of his "disrespectful" behavior. Police also banned Dehartuch from the Knesset for two weeks and prohibited him from contacting Cohen.
Dehartuch has long been at odds with UTJ and other religious MKs whose budget requests he questions. Tuesday's argument focused on funds in the 2008 budget that would go to religious sectors.
In the heat of the argument, Cohen told Dehartuch: "You are destroying the Torah world."
Dehartuch, who lost 20 relatives in the Holocaust, replied: "You're an animal, shut your mouth," at which point Cohen exclaimed: "You are worse than the Germans, you want to destroy the body and also the soul."
An enraged Dehartuch then said: "If you don't shut your mouth, I'll give you a slap."
"Let's see then," Cohen goaded. Dehartuch complied, slapping him across the face.
According to Knesset officials present, Cohen also called Dehartuch "a Nazi." Cohen denied using the word.
Dehartuch appeared on television Tuesday night and apologized for the "injury he caused to the dignity of MK Ya'acov Cohen and the dignity of the Knesset." He also said that at his own request, he had asked the Justice Ministry for a leave of absence.
Dehartuch said no public figure had the right to describe anyone, including a civil servant, as being "worse than the Germans."
"I try to do my work as well as I can, every day and all day," he added, in response to the attacks against him. He specifically mentioned the haredi press and said it had vilified him for many years, calling him "an idiot, Haman and Antiochus."
Interviewed on Channel 10 Tuesday night, Dehartuch apologized for the slap. "I'm sorry I lost control," he said.
He said the comparison with Germans particularly angered him. "Comments like that must not be ignored," he said. Dehartuch said the remark had been extremely insensitive.
"My father, who died last year, hid from the Nazis in Holland and 20 members of his family were wiped out," he said.
While Knesset members were shocked to learn Dehartuch had physically assaulted an MK, many defended him as a hard working government official.
"Dehartuch is a serious man, an honest and ideological man who is an example and a symbol of striving toward a government free of corruption," MK Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP) said. "Not many could restrain themselves from slapping, if Amnon indeed chose to do so to MK Cohen. I suggest we all take a deep breath and refrain from speaking harshly of him."
Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said haredi politicians had treated Dehartuch "in an unbearable manner" over the past few years. "Firing him would be a dream come true for the haredim," he said.
A Meretz spokeswoman said it was ironic that Cohen was slapped, considering that less than a month ago UTJ publicly argued in favor of parents being allowed to slap their children for disciplinary purposes.
Meanwhile, Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen issued a statement saying Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz had spoken with Dehartuch several times during the day and that Dehartuch had expressed regret for the incident and explained its context.