An Israeli Arab Lawmaker Can't Even Get a Worthy Traffic Bill Passed

The Yisrael Beiteinu party won't vote in favor of any legislation submitted by MKs from the Joint Arab List; MK Tibi: That’s what it’s like to be an Arab in the Knesset.

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MK Ahmed Tibi
MK Ahmed TibiCredit: Olivier Fitoussi

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) often gets stuck in traffic on the Trans-Israel Highway. Infrastructure work, an overload of vehicles, or the two together, turn the “express” toll road into another nerve-wracking experience. The monthly bill he and all the highway’s other users get doesn’t take into account the time wasted, the loss of working hours, the frayed nerves. 

Tibi found out that in other countries, drivers who get stuck in traffic jams on a toll road get an automatic reduction from the operator. The Israeli government was sloppy and didn’t insert a clause to that effect in the contract with Derech Eretz, the company that operates Highway 6, as it’s popularly known. 

So, the MK formulated an amendment to the law that would authorize the transportation minister, with the approval of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee, to exempt drivers from paying the toll in the event of a traffic jam caused by roadworks or vehicle overload. This is badly needed consumer legislation. And it’s the third time, in three different Knessets, that Tibi has submitted the bill, only to have it rejected by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on the formal grounds that “an agreement exists.”

The same happened this time around. But this past Wednesday, the Knesset witnessed an unusual event. Tibi introduced his bill in the plenum, knowing its fate was sealed. But the Knesset rebelled. Coalition MKs, including House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud) and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), the latter of whom termed the bill “excellent and worthy” (and who submitted similar legislation in the past) came out in favor of the bill. Bitan and coalition whip MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) urged Tibi to postpone the vote while they try to persuade the treasury to revoke its opposition to the legislation. Tibi agreed.

Before taking the podium, when he thought he might be able to muster a majority without coalition support, Tibi asked the chairs of the Yesh Atid and Zionist Union factions – MKs Ofer Shelah and Merav Michaeli, respectively – to find out how the six members of the opposition Yisrael Beiteinu party would vote. After checking, they told Tibi that Yisrael Beiteinu would vote for the bill only if MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) – who is a signatory to the bill, together with Tibi and his colleague MK Osama Saadia – introduced it from the podium. 

“That’s what it’s like to be an Arab in the Knesset,” Tibi said to me this week.

In fact, Yisrael Beiteinu in principle will not vote in favor of any legislation or no-confidence motion submitted by MKs from the Joint Arab List. 

This week, the party’s leader, Lieberman, participated with MK Yair Lapid in a conference that bemoaned the deterioration in Israel’s international standing. Surely, overt racism in parliament doesn’t help. It didn’t bother Lapid to share the stage with Lieberman in this context – he’s the “acting foreign minister,” as we know. And as we know, Lapid is losing sleep over Israel’s international status. Soon he’ll be appointing make-believe ambassadors and speaking at the United Nations.

In the same connection, or not, Tibi spoke last week at a conference held in the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo. His subject: the special situation of Arab citizens of Israel. “Our struggle is parliamentary, public, popular and via public diplomacy, but it must not turn violent,” he said. “Accordingly, I call on all the groups in the Arab world and elsewhere not to recruit Arab citizens of Israel for military or armed activity. Please keep your hands off our young people.”

Tibi told me about his speech while we were talking about the incident this week in the Knesset. He had been asked to make the remarks in Cairo by Arab families in Israel whose children leave home and go to Turkey and Syria to join organizations such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. I asked him whether the audience had applauded. 

“No,” he replied, “but I noticed people nodding in assent.”