Israeli MK Hanin Zuabi Accuses Yair Lapid of Hating Arabs

Israeli-Arab MK responds to Yesh Atid chairman's comment that he would not join a blocking majority with Arab parties.

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MK Hanin Zuabi accused Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid of being racist on Thursday, in light of a comment he made that he would not join "a blocking majority with Hanin Zuabis."

Speaking to reporters outside his Tel Aviv home on Wednesday, Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party won 19 seats in the election for Israel's 19th Knesset, making it the second-largest party in Israel's parliament, ruled out joining a left-wing coalition with Arab parties that would block a right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When referring to the prospect of joining forces with center-left and Arab parties to block the formation of a right-wing coalition, Lapid made a reference to the controversial Arab Knesset member, saying he would not "join a blocking majority with Hanin Zuabis."

Zuabi, of the Balad party, was a passenger aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of several ships in a flotilla attempting to break Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2010.

On Thursday, Zuabi said that Lapid's comments demonstrated a lack of political backbone. She accused him of having no political agenda and of not only hating her, but Arabs in general. Zuabi also claimed Arab voters understood Lapid was not centrist, but right-wing.

Ruth Calderon, a newly-elected Yesh Atid MK dismissed Zuabi's accusations, telling Haaretz that she had never heard Lapid express racist views.

Ron Gerlitz and Ali Haider, of the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel, responded to Zuabi's charge, saying, "In his statement about the possibility of joining the Israeli-Arab parties, Yair Lapid has shown he's ruling out partnership with the Arabs and following in the footsteps of the outgoing Knesset's radical MKs."

"As an advocate of change and new politics, he of all people is demonstrating dissenting, discriminatory stances to the senior representatives of the Arab public. To our regret, the man who promised to bring new, civic politics is giving us old, divisive slogans," they said.

While Lapid may not have been willing to block a Netnyahu-led coalition by joining forces with Zuabi, he does not oppose having leaders like her make their voice heard.

In a meeting with students that took place on the same day the Israel Elections Committee decided to disqualify Zuabi from running in the 2013 elections, Lapid said the parliament was making a mistake and that the Israeli-Arab MK deserved to run despite her extreme views.

"There was a debate over whether Zuabi and [Otzma Leyisrael co-founder] Michael Ben Ari's crowd should be disqualified. This may sound strange to some people, but in my opinion they are as similar as twins, because all extremists look similar to me regardless of what side they are on," Lapid said. "But there is something that disrespects the internal strength of the State of Israel in the idea that we will try via the law to shut mouths of people whose words we hate. I despise everything that Hanin Zuabi represents, but I also remember that freedom of speech is intended to defend everything I despise, otherwise there would be no need for this [right]."

Lapid added that "if you are part of the national camp, you need to be against disqualifying Hanin Zuabi."

The Knesset's decision to disqualify Zuabi was indeed later overturned by Israel's High Court, and she was reelected to the 19th Knesset along with two other Balad members.

MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) speaking in the Israeli Knesset, Jerusalem, March 23, 2011.Credit: Michal Fattal

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