Man Who Threw Hot Tea in Israeli Arab Lawmaker's Face Gets Four Months

Be’er Sheva resident, 50, convicted under plea bargain for assaulting Ahmad Tibi in December 2013.

MK Ahmed Tibi
Olivier Fitoussi

A man was sentenced to four months in prison Tuesday for throwing hot tea in the face of an Arab Knesset member two years ago.

Zion Vaknin, 50, of Be’er Sheva was convicted in a plea bargain under which he confessed to assault in exchange for the prosecution dropping a charge of assaulting a public servant.

The incident occurred in December 2013, when Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) and other MKs were at a demonstration in Be’er Sheva against the Prawer plan for dealing with unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Vaknin approached Tibi and flung a cup of tea at his face. The next day, police indicted him.

Vaknin’s attorney argued that his client had psychological problems. Vaknin himself said he suffered from post-traumatic stress due to his service in the 1982 Lebanon War and had seen a psychiatrist several times, but had never been hospitalized.

The Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court said it viewed Vaknin’s psychological problems, along with his difficult life and his acceptance of responsibility, as reasons for leniency. On the other hand, it said, his long history of violent crimes, including a 13-month sentence for assaulting a doctor and a social worker, constituted grounds for stringency.

Tibi is currently in the United States, but his office issued a statement about the ruling.

“This physical assault and the constant threats against Arab MKs are a direct result of the ongoing incitement, primarily by the political system, and the delegitimization of elected officials just because they think and act differently from the consensus,” it said. “This criminal, who received a light sentence, isn’t what interests us, but rather those who incited him and thereby legitimized attacks on Arab MKs. The incitement choir sits in the cabinet, and it is conducted by a single man, the prime minister.”