Activists Removed From Knesset for Waving Declaration of Independence in Nation-state Law Debate

Knesset speaker calls opposition leader Livni's speech 'a disgrace'

Activists wave the Declaration of Independence in the Knesset, Jerusalem, August 8, 2018.
Emil Salman

A storm erupted in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, as Zionist Union activists waved copies of the Declaration of Independence during a special recess session on the nation-state law.

Several activists in the visitors’ gallery rose and waved copies of the Declaration of Independence during opposition leader Tzipi Livni’s speech. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein cut short Livni’s speech and said it was “a disgrace.” Ushers tore the copies out of the protesters’ hands, ripped them up and removed the protesters from the plenum.

The debate was attended by only six coalition MKs and fewer than 30 opposition MKs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not attend the session.

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Livni called on Netanyahu to advance the Knesset elections and said “the rules of the game have changed. We have no intention of bowing our heads, we won’t cave in to threats of division or become afraid because we represent a minority. An absolute majority of the public supports the Declaration of Independence, and wants unity around it.”

“It’s 70 years since the Jewish nation’s state was established and the government of Israel is tearing up the Declaration of Independence and with it the nation and society in Israel,” Livni said. “If you think you can call anyone who opposes you a traitor – it’s over. There’s almost no minority that you haven’t added to the state’s enemies. The glue of hatred and fear keeps you together, we are glued by values and a path. This is the glue that kept all the Jewish community’s leaders together while the state was being founded. The glue that Netanyahu is trying to dissolve with the acid he’s pouring on our relationships with each other,” she said.

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) also spoke at the debate, clashing with Druze MK Akaram Hasoon (Kulanu), whom he called a “second-class citizen.” Freige blasted Hasoon for backing his party leader, Moshe Kahlon, who had supported the law, despite the fact that Hasoon himself objects to it and even petitioned the High Court of Justice against it.

“It’s not respectable for a second-class citizen to protect the master who could have stopped this law from passing,” Freige said.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the law, at a rally organized by the Druze community. The participants called for support for the Declaration of Independence and waved posters saying, “If we’re brothers, we must have equality,” and “Our strength is in our unity – the nation-state law divides us.”

The High Court of Justice is expected to hear several petitions filed against the law, including one by Druze MKs Hasoon, Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Saleh Saad (Zionist Union), and another by Meretz.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said earlier this week that if the High Court strikes down the nation-state law, it will be “an earthquake, a war between authorities.” In an interview with Army Radio, Shaked said the High Court has no authority to strike down basic laws, such as the nation-state law, which have quasi-constitutional legal standing. “The High Court of Justice justices are very serious, professional people. The Knesset is the founding assembly, the one that defines and sets the basic laws. They must interpret the laws according to the basic laws and I don’t believe there will be a majority in the High Court that would decide on such a move,” she said.