Activists for higher disability benefits started a fistfight in a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Tuesday.
Physical violence broke out between activists who protested a proposed increase in their benefits, saying it is insufficient, and those willing to accept it. One attempted to stab another with a pen.
“We cannot live with NIS 300 more,” activists repeatedly shouted. “Why are you spreading the increase over four years?”
In September, following protests in which disabled people obstructed busy intersections, the government approved a NIS 4.2 billion increase in disability benefits over the next four years, starting with a NIS 300 rise per person in January.
However, progress has been slow on legislating it. The raise will be in proportion to the severity of the disability; those with the most debilitating conditions are to receive NIS 4,500 per month.
The meeting in the Knesset was shut down twice. First, because one of the activists repeatedly shouted “shut your mouth!” at lawmakers participating in the discussion, and refused to leave when asked to do so by committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu).
“You sold us out – we won’t agree to it being gradual,” they shouted, threatening to block roads again.
When the meeting resumed 15 minutes later, Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, who participated at first, did not return.
The meeting was shut down soon after for a second time, when one of the more radical activists insulted another who was willing to accept the outline, and Alalouf asked him to leave.
Then, the physical violence began. Knesset ushers were able to take control of the situation, but Alalouf decided to end the meeting, and considered rescheduling it without allowing the activists in.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said he was shocked by the violence.
“The Knesset is a place for discussion and argument, but never a place for violence,” Edelstein said. “With all the understanding of the importance of the disabled people’s struggle, which is very emotional – just as other issues are – no one is allowed to use violence. I call on all the leaders of the struggle to reject those who behave in this way.”
MK Karin Elharrar of Yesh Atid, who has muscular dystrophy and is wheel-chair bound, told the activists that their divisions are hurting them.
“The things some of the activists said are shocking,” she said. “Stop it. We have a shared goal.”
Before the disruptions, Katz tried to reason with the activists.
“We won’t get minimum wage out of this,” he said. “We need to be realistic. In the framework of my abilities, we will bring a better bill that will cover all the populations.”
Coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) vowed that the first benefits increase will be deposited in January.
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, who is disabled as a result of childhood polio, spoke out against the violent activists, saying they are “not human.”
Gilon said he is in favor of the government’s compromise proposal, though he vowed not to rest until his bill, that would raise disability payments to minimum wage, is passed.
“I understand the political reality we live in… this is the maximum we can get now,” Gilon said. “I won’t take a chance just because of my ego… I met with the prime minister and finance minister and I told them that I don’t need credit. I told them they can promote the bill themselves,” he added.
“We don’t have to be professors to understand it. In the end, I and the coalition chairman sat with a calculator and we compromised,” Gilon said.
The meeting will resume on Monday morning, and only registered NGOs will be able to attend, with one representative each.
Sarah Levi contributed to this report.