MK apologizes for comments against Russian MKs

Labor MK says it sounds as if Israel Beiteinu Mks speak “as if they have gravel between their teeth.”

January 25, 2012 19:19
2 minute read.
Lieberman, Israel Beiteinu MKs [file]

Lieberman, Israel Beiteinu MKs [file]_311. (photo credit: Reuters)


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MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) apologized in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday for saying that Israel Beiteinu is “polluting” the Knesset and for making fun of Russian accents.

Speaking at a Tuesday-night conference in the Knesset about relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Ben-Simon said Israel Beiteinu MKs “poisoned and polluted” the Knesset, and called for them to join the conference in order to “learn what they weren’t taught in school in Saint Petersburg.”

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Ben-Simon, himself an immigrant from Morocco who speaks with a French accent, described Israel Beiteinu parliamentarians as speaking “as if they have gravel between their teeth.”

“They barely know the language and are already judging other people,” he added.

The Labor MK was repeatedly heckled during his apology speech.

MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) told Ben-Simon that he is “shaming Moroccans,” while MK Moshe Matalon, a non-Russian Member of Israel Beiteinu, called him an “embarrassment to the Knesset.”

“From the day I moved to Israel at age 16, my goal was to protect the weak,” Ben-Simon explained in his apology. “I was only trying to strengthen the weak with what I said. I didn’t say one word on immigrants.”

The MK also said that “gravel between their teeth” was a literary reference, which Israeli author and poet Haim Guri wrote about Ben-Simon.

Before Ben-Simon spoke, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) said that the Labor MK’s statements are racist, and that his “dark” words are polluting the Knesset.

Livnat praised Russian immigrants’ “ great contributions to culture, sport and science,” and called on Ben-Simon to apologize.

Also on Tuesday night, Ben- Simon called the “Kahanists” in the National Union “poisonous,” and asked the organizers of Tuesday night’s conference to invite those MKs to join the event so that they could be exposed to other opinions.

One of Ben-Simon’s best known works as a reporter for Haaretz, his career before becoming a Knesset member, was an interview that destroyed the political career of then-Labor MK Uri Or, because of anti-immigrant comments.

In 1998, Ben Simon quoted Or as saying the following about his colleagues of Sephardic descent in Labor: “You can’t have a normal conversation with them. The problem with [then-minister Shlomo] Ben Ami, Rafi Ederi, Raanan Cohen and the others is that they interpret all legitimate criticism as race-based criticism.”

Following the interview, Labor sanctioned Or, not allowing him to speak in the party’s name in the Knesset. Or, however, said that his comments were fabricated.

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