Knesset votes down Kafr Kassem memorial bill

The 1956 Kafr Kassem massacre resulted in the death of 48 Arab Israelis at the hands of Israeli Border Police.

 View of the Israeli-Arab town of Kfar Kassem, near Tel Aviv. July 02, 2013.  (photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)
View of the Israeli-Arab town of Kfar Kassem, near Tel Aviv. July 02, 2013.
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI/FLASH90)

The Knesset plenum voted 93-12 on Wednesday against a bill to establish a national day of mourning to commemorate the victims of the 1956 Kafr Kassem massacre in which 48 Arab-Israelis were shot dead by Border Police officers.

In the stormy debate, the bill’s sponsor, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman, said if the Coalition defeated the bill, it would prove the left-wing parties in the government are merely a “paper tiger” with no real influence.

Meretz Minister Esawi Frej told the plenum that his own family members were killed in the massacre. He said the Joint List was raising his own bill from the past in an effort to embarrass him.

“Shame on you for trying to use my family’s pain to get a few votes,” Frej said in an anguished voice.

Touma-Sliman responded that she was not trying to shame anyone but to insist on justice for the victims.

  Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

“You are sitting in the government quietly, at the expense of your people, whom you are not helping at all,” she said to Frej.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh said Frej was “on the wrong side,” serving in the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whom Odeh called “a Kafr Kassem massacre denier.”

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said the bill was not needed, because the Kfar Kassem incident was studied in schools.

Earlier, a  controversial bill of Ra’am (United Arab List) MK Waleed Taha that would enable Arab and Bedouin homes built illegally to be connected to the national electric grid was passed in a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday afternoon.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked toned down the bill and made it apply only to those in which building plans have been partially approved, half the places originally intended.

Taha, who chairs the Knesset Interior Committee, had threatened to prevent the passage of the state budget and initiate elections if the bill was not advanced.

“The bill fulfills a basic civic right,” Taha told the plenum. “It is unacceptable and wrong to make this a political issue. Those seeking political gain should look elsewhere, instead of depriving Arab citizens of basic rights.

Minister in the Finance Ministry Hamed Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) said such homes must be hooked up to a national grid to save lives. He said a family in Usfiya that was hooked up illegally recently died in a fire.

Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich and Likud MK Yoav Kisch spoke against the bill in the plenum. Kisch accused Shaked of surrendering to Ra’am.