MK Hanin Zoabi.
(photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)
On the playground, children are often advised to ignore bullies, because if they’re not getting a rise out of anyone, they’re likely to stop. On Tuesday, an initiative to bring that playground logic to the Knesset in dealing with MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) spread among MKs, less than a week after she sparked a melee in the plenum.
MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) sent a letter to all MKs asking them to walk out of the plenum whenever Zoabi speaks, with support from opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), the day after Yesh Atid voted in its faction meeting to do so. Likud MK Yoav Kisch began an effort over the weekend to convince other factions to do the same.
Last Wednesday, pandemonium broke out in the Knesset after Zoabi called IDF soldiers “murderers.” Some MKs started the not-unusual shouting when they disagree, but things escalated as more and more lawmakers approached Deputy Knesset Speaker Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) demanding that Zoabi apologize and moved right in front of Zoabi pointing and shouting at her. The Joint List MK continued repeating her claim about IDF soldiers, and at one point, Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy charged at her, but was stopped by Knesset security. Other disruptive legislators were removed from the plenum.
Following the incident, coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) said he will try to draft a bill that will get Zoabi removed from the Knesset for good, and got Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing for the move.
Cabel wrote on Tuesday that he watched the video clip of the commotion, and that he was “ashamed and outraged that an MK can lie so brazenly, spread libels, incite to violence and intolerably attack the country and its values.
“The need to respond and contradict her lies and severe statements is a must, but it cannot be by way of an onslaught.
We have to stop playing into her hands,” he wrote. “When we react borderline violently, we are making her look like the hero and ourselves look ridiculous, and that is exactly what she wants to achieve.”
Cabel added that he does not think Zoabi belongs in the Knesset, because “her words were a clear call to violence, a slander of the IDF and its soldiers and officers, of the Knesset and its members.”
However, he posited that the only way to remove Zoabi from the legislature is under criminal law – meaning not via a new law passed by the Knesset – and called for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit work on doing so under the appropriate legal conditions.
Until then, Cabel asked his fellow lawmakers to join him in walking out whenever Zoabi speaks.
Kisch, however, had second thoughts on the matter on Tuesday. He said that many MKs agreed with the idea, but some on the Right felt that leaving the plenum was letting Zoabi win.
“Some people said, it’s our House, so we shouldn’t leave. She should leave,” he explained. “No one wants to hear her, the question is whether walking out is giving up. I need to think about it more.”
A Meretz spokeswoman said the party’s MKs would not boycott Zoabi.
Should the walkout proposal succeed, it will be a repeat of the way former MK Meir Kahane was treated in the 1980s.
Kahane often spoke to a nearly-empty room in the Knesset. He was barred from running in the 1988 election on grounds of racism.
In what is perhaps a taunt of Cabel’s stature, Zoabi called him a “small politician.”
“The enlightened world is against Israeli racism of which Cabel, [Defense Minister Avigdor] Liberman, [Likud MK Oren] Hazan and Netanyahu are clear representatives,” Zoabi stated.
Zoabi wondered, “How strong is coexistence, if one member of parliament can destroy it? How strong is the public status of the ‘moral army’ if the testimony of one MK can undermine it?” “Israel’s democratic image cannot be reconciled with its racist behavior, and all of these verbal acrobatics cannot do it,” she added. “The Knesset is the queen of fascist parliaments.”
Zoabi added that she would “rather speak to an empty chair than to talk to the empty consciences of Cabel and his ilk.”