Knesset Speaker Despairs 'Intolerable' Low of Debate Over Gaza Flotilla

Reuven Rivlin deplores parliamentary standards after unruly MKs hurl abuse across assembly chamber.

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin MK, April 26, 2010
Emil Salman

The speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, on Tuesday deplored the standard of parliamentary debate in Israel as having hit new lows after a stormy session on issues pertaining to the Israel Navy's raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla saw verbal abuse hurled across the assembly chamber.

"All of the floodgates have burst in all directions, to the extent that it is no longer tolerable," Rivlin said in an interview with Army Radio.

Debate in Israel's always vibrant legislature often takes a strident tone. But Monday's committee discussion on a move to strip parliamentary privileges from Hanin Zuabi, an MK  who traveled aboard a Gaza-bound protest flotilla raided by Israel last week, spawned more than the usual raucous.

"Get back to Gaza, you traitor," shouted one Likud party MK, Miri Regev, in Arabic at one point during the debate.

Another Likud MK, Yohanan Plesner, teased Zuabi for being "38 and single", before also suggesting the Israeli Arab MK might feel more at home in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

"There is a severe deterioration in the quality of debate, in the standard of behavior and in the freedom members allow themselves, whether to gain headlines or strike down proposals," Rivlin said.

At the end of Monday's session, the committee voted seven to one in favor of striking down Zuabi's privileges, with only Ilan Ghilon of the left-wing Meretz party against. The motion will now go before the Knesset plenum.

But Knesset's legal adviser, Eyal Inon, said that even if the resolution passed a plenary vote, it was still a recommendation and held no real significance.

Zuabi and other Israeli Arab MKs have faced heavy criticism and even threats in the wake of last week's raid, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

On Monday, two MKs, Talab al-Sana and Ahmad Tibi, both said they had received death threats. Tibi said he was sent letters calling him a "dirty Arab" and telling him his "days were numbered". A fax sent to Sana's office said simply, "you're dead".