Israeli Arab Leader Suspended From Knesset Debates for Insulting Police Officers

Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh was suspended from the Knesset for a week after he told police to 'go to hell' during a protest in May

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh, in the Knesset plenum, February 12, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

MK Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, was banned on Monday from Knesset debates for a week because of insults he hurled at police officers during a demonstration in Haifa, in May.

Odeh will also be banned from committee sessions but will still be able to vote in the plenum.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Following a complaint against Odeh filed by Likud MKs Nava Boker and Oren Hazan, the Knesset Ethics Committee decided on the suspension.

The incident in questioned occurred after a protest in Haifa against the killing of Palestinians along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Odeh had gone to the Bnei Zion (Rothschild) Medical Center in Haifa to visit human rights activist Jafar Farah, who claims that an Israel Police officer had cursed and beaten him during the demonstration. When the police tried to prevent the MK from entering the hospital, Odeh responded by yelling insults at them, telling them, “Who are you at all? Go to hell!" And, he added, “You are nothing!”

Ethics Committee members decided that with such behavior, Odeh had violated the directive whereby MKs must act in a way that is appropriate to their status as representatives of the public.

The panel's decision was made “in light of the fact that this is not the first time MK Odeh has violated ethics regulations” – a reference to the reprimand the Joint List leader received in 2016 for calling MK Avi Dichter (Likud) a “murderer” in a television interview.

“Most committee members feel that whether or not preventing MK Odeh from visiting [the hospital] is in line with the immunity law [for Knesset members], the expressions he used when addressing the police cannot be seen as harsh political expressions – which are worthy of criticism, but allowed because of freedom of speech – but are vulgar [street language], insults and curses,” the committee stated on Monday.

>> 'Go to Gaza, terrorist': Israeli Arab protesters say police abused them in detention

In response, Odeh said: “Instead of defending the immunity of Knesset members and their proper conduct, the Ethics Committee was dragged into an impassioned debate today and joined the trend of silencing and shutting up [people] that is taking control over the Knesset. I will continue to do my work as an elected public representative and I will demand to visit every injured person, certainly if they were beaten by the police.”

At the May 21 demonstration, Farah, chairman of the Mossawa Center the Advocacy Center for Arab Palestinian Citizens, was arrested and claims that his leg was broken by the police. The gathering, at which protesters waved Palestinian flags, was held without a permit and those arrested are suspected of disrupting the public order, according to the Israel Police.

Also on Monday the Knesset Ethics Committee rejected, for the second time, a request by MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) to take a trip abroad that would be financed by an organization the government accuses of supporting a boycott of Israel. Jabareen wants to participate in a conference of a French-Palestinian solidarity organization and speak on the subject of anti-democratic legislation in Israel.

In March, the Ethics Committee decided to refuse the MK's request to fly abroad for a series of lectures in April to be funded by Jewish Voice for Peace. This organization also appears on a Strategic Affairs Ministry blacklist of groups supporting BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Jabareen had recently appealed the panel's decision, and has called it “a serious and dangerous attack on the freedom of expression of MKs and their freedom of movement.”