Days after Israel announced its departure from UNESCO, the Knesset is weighing whether to remain in the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai said on Thursday.
Shai’s comments came a day after the Knesset delegation he led walked out of the IPU’s 137th Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia, after its president did not give MKs their full speaking time and allowed representatives of Arab countries to disrupt them and shout accusations against Israel. In addition, the IPU Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians called on Israel to release terrorists from prison.
“We need to check our relations with the organization,” Shai said. “It could be that under the surface they accept anti-Israel agendas. We’ll see in the future.”
Shai expressed disappointment, because Israel has had a longstanding relationship with the IPU, even hosting delegates at a water-technology conference last month.
“We are trying to promote a civil agenda, to help citizens. If they’re becoming political, we have to decide how to proceed. Next time we will approach the IPU differently,” he said.
The Knesset delegation included Shai, along with MKs Sharren Haskel (Likud), Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) and Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), and Knesset Secretary Yardena Maller-Horowitz. The delegates sent a letter to outgoing IPU President Saber Chowdhury, who hails from Bangladesh, a Muslim country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations. The letter said Chowdhury “deeply harmed the neutral stance of the IPU by allowing Arab states to interrupt the Israeli speakers non-stop, to disturb them while they spoke, and did not give equal time to members of the Knesset delegation.”
During the conference, Kuwait’s Parliament speaker shouted at the Israeli delegates: “You are child murderers!” He also called them “representatives of the occupying parliament, representatives of the most dangerous terrorism,” and loudly told them to leave. He then posted a video on his social media accounts edited to look as if the MKs walked out immediately after he demanded they do so, when in fact they left later, after delegates banged on their tables to drown out Haskel as she addressed the assembly.
The delegation said it left because of anti-Israel resolutions authorized by the IPU. Those included a call to release terrorists Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat from prison and criticism of Israel for arresting members of the Palestinian National Assembly who were involved in terrorism.
Speaking to the assembly amid shouts from Arab delegates, Shai said: “I naively thought that this organization, like the whole world, is united against terrorism, because terrorism endangers every country in every place in the world, at every moment. You want us to release convicted terrorists from prison? I thought you wanted to fight terrorism, not aid it, but reality is different.”
Shai also said Israel is committed to peace with its Palestinian neighbors, but that does not mean it will stop its uncompromising fight against terrorism.
Following statements condemning Israel from the Palestinian Authority and several Arab and Muslim states, Haskel said: “I don’t know if this is a bad joke. Countries like Pakistan, Syria and Iran will tell us what it means to protect human rights? I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.”
At that point, representatives began banging on the tables, drowning out Haskel’s words.
“The purpose of this organization is to protect democracy, to create cooperation between countries. Just to let you know: The PA for the past 10 years has had no elections. Is that democracy? What types of representatives are they? Are we not supposed to support democracy the vote of the people? Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East... [but] Israel is singled out. Is this not absurd? Is this not hypocrisy?” Haskel asked.
He added: “Israel is the only one [in the Middle East] that gives full, equal rights to all its citizens, whether they are Jews, Christian, Muslim or Druse... and you in the Middle East blame it all on Israel.”
Chowdhury cut off Haskel’s speech while she still had two minutes on the clock.
After the conference, Shai expressed disappointment that none of the representatives of countries with which Israel is friendly, such as the UK, Canada or Australia, stood up for Israel. The US is not a member of the IPU.
“When [Arab countries] spoke, there was silence. No one bothered them. When I opened my mouth, you couldn’t hear, because they tried to silence us,” he recounted.
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