Furor erupts at meeting over nat'l service for Arabs

MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and MK Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) could not restrain themselves to polite debate as they championed opposite sides of the issue.

lieberman leaving 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
lieberman leaving 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Charges of "Little fascist!" and "Traitor!" rang out as tempers frayed at the Knesset Education Committee meeting Sunday, during a debate about national service for Israeli Arabs. MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and MK Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) could not restrain themselves to polite debate as they championed opposite sides of the issue. "The leaders of the Arab community oppose national service. We are fulfilling our rights and obligations to explain to the youngsters the ramifications. Whoever does national service will be caught in the middle, and Arab society will consider him a traitor and a leper," Zahalka declared. "The haredi community is exempt from national service for religious reasons. The Arab community should be exempted for nationalistic reasons," Zahalka added. He then turned to Lieberman, who was sitting next to him, and said, "Lieberman sits here and incites, the little fascist. Shut your mouth!" Lieberman replied, "You are a huge inciter, a fifth column, traitor! We'll make sure you get to someplace fitting for you." "If the state wants coexistence, it is inconceivable that we can't find an answer for those who are willing to volunteer, even if it comes at the expense of Jewish volunteers," Lieberman went on, "The state is showing signs of suicide - teachers who receive salaries from the Education Ministry inciting against volunteering for national service, and the police are not dealing with the complaints." MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), who requested the expedited session, noted that according to a recent survey, "76 percent of Israeli Arabs would like to volunteer for national service, but various Arab groups have prevented them from joining the program, even going so far as to incite and even physically attack them." Two Israeli Arab women described to the committee how they had been attacked. Rizak Marlan, coordinator of the NGO Equality, told the committee she had been attacked "in Bir al-Maksur in a school, and afterwards I received threats. I filed a complaint with the police. That person also attacked a social worker, who also filed a complaint." Nibian Kitan, a volunteer with the national service program in Nazareth, told the committee, "I was also attacked a month ago and filed a complaint. I don't know what happened with the complaints." Kitan, who teaches computers at a school, said she did not plan to stop volunteering, despite being attacked and branded a traitor. "I see myself as a Palestinian Arab living in Israel. I belong both to my nation and to Israel." Committee chair MK Michael Melchior (Labor) said violence and incitement were unacceptable and demanded that the police inform the committee what they were doing about the complaints. In the committee's decisions, Melchior stressed that national service in the Arab sector should not come at the expense of the Jewish sector. Melchior concluded by calling on Israeli Arab youth to work out an agreement with the Arab population to be able to volunteer for national service.