Arab MKs have every right to speak Arabic during Knesset debates - editorial

What the opposition MKs forgot is that as a language with a special status in Israel, Arabic is one of two languages allowed to be spoken in the Knesset plenum.

 MK Walid Taha speaks during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK Walid Taha speaks during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Last week the Knesset passed the Electricity Law.

The law provides a solution to a problem that has existed for years and now allows homes built illegally in the Arab sector to connect to the national electrical grid.

In order to obtain a building permit in Israel, a master plan needs to be approved for each town. For years, Arab towns throughout the country were neglected, and in most places, no master plan was approved. As a result, Arab towns were expanded illegally without proper supervision over the construction and buildings were hooked up haphazardly to water pipes, sewage, and electricity.

During the debate over the bill, the Netanyahu-led bloc within the opposition decided to boycott the Knesset discussions. That left only one opposition party in the discussions — the Joint List.

This created an unusual scene; the sponsors of the bill, MKs from Ra’am, were left alone in the Knesset plenum, with their former allies and now adversaries, the Joint List.

 MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks with MK Ahmad Tibi during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK Mazen Ghnaim speaks with MK Ahmad Tibi during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

When only Arab MKs were present in the plenum, the discussion was held in Arabic.

One after the other, Joint List and Ra’am MKs presented their articulate arguments, all in Arabic, under the supervision of deputy Knesset speaker Mansour Abbas, who was chairing the session.

When the time to vote on the bill came and the plenum was already full with MKs from all parties, MK Walid Taha, the sponsor of the bill presented it, speaking a few lines in Arabic as well.

During Taha’s speech, Likud MK David Amsalem, who apparently does not understand Arabic, pointed at the podium and shouted: “[You want] baklava and coffee? Do you have no shame? Look to the low point we have reached. Two Arabs are talking among themselves, making fun of us.”

He then shouted at Abbas: “Do you understand what’s going on here? What do you think, that it is your village here?”

MK Ofir Akunis joined the inciters and in a video which he later shared on social media he said: “The only thing missing is replacing the Israeli flag with the Palestinian flag. Then they will mark a complete takeover.”

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir posted a video in which he filmed MK Taha saying: “Now he’s looking at me, terrorist Walid Taha… You should be in Syria!”

This type of talk is part of an ongoing campaign led by the Likud party against the current government. What Likud doesn’t admit is that Benjamin Netanyahu tried to form a coalition with Ra’am, the sponsors of this bill.

What the opposition MKs forgot is that as a language with a special status in Israel, Arabic is one of two languages allowed to be spoken in the Knesset plenum.

It is not the first time that Arab and non-Arab MKs choose to speak in Arabic in the Knesset plenum.

Arabic is the mother tongue of 20% of Israeli citizens and is the most spoken language in the region. 

The tantrum that was displayed by the Netanyahu-bloc MKs represents fear and ignorance. 

The spiritual father of the Likud movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, wrote in an article in 1940 that in the ideal Jewish state ”in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice-versa.”

Moreover, he believed that “the Hebrew and the Arabic languages shall enjoy equal rights and equal legal validity.” He also wrote that “Both Hebrew and Arabic shall be used with equal legal effect in Parliament, in the Courts, in the schools and in general before any office or organ of the State, as well as in any school of whatever degree.”

What happened to this approach and why are MKs like Amsalem, who comes from an Arabic-speaking home so against using it in public?

An important step toward real actual peace and acceptance of Israel in the Middle East will be when Israelis speak Arabic and stop objecting to the usage of it the public sphere,

Moreover, pro-BDS organizations around the world try to portray Israel as an apartheid state, in which Arabs are inferior. Allowing Arabic to be spoken in parliament is one way to prove them wrong.

Which is why Amsalem, Akunis and others need to realize that their attacks only cause Israel damage. Arabs are equal citizens, and speaking their language is their right.