Analysis

The Spectacle During Pence's Knesset Speech Perfectly Captures Israeli Politics

It would be interesting to know what Pence thought of the violent removal of Israeli-Arab lawmakers from the parliament

Ushers scuffle with members of the Joint List who are holding signs in protest ahead of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's address to the Knesset in Jerusalem January 22, 2018.
\ POOL/REUTERS

The violent assault by security guards on members of the Joint List who brandished protest posters during the speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the Knesset was impressive by any operational standards. Not even Israel's police riot squad could have neutralized and eliminated the threat faster. Within 20 seconds, the chamber was free of roadside hazards, as the Waze navigation app puts it, and order was restored.

Pence is certainly an arch-conservative and a pious Christian, and has benighted opinions about women, abortions and the LGBT community. But during his Congressional years he was considered a fair colleague, a believer in democracy and an amiable individual. It would be interesting to know what he thought of the spectacle he witnessed.

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The event was a kind of microcosm of the Israeli political map. On the far left were the MKs of the (Arab) Joint List, whose behavior did not add much honor to a Knesset that’s already scratching the bottom of the barrel. They behaved exactly like the MKs of the national-religious Habayit Hayehudi party in the previous Knesset, who screamed at Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament at the time, for daring to express his identification with the suffering of the West Bank Palestinians due to a water shortage. The Jewish MKs were handled more tolerantly, if memory serves.

At the other extreme were the right-wing parties that serve in the coalition. Pence’s empathetic speech was for them the realization of generations-old dreams, for the most part. Every time he voiced a right-wing view, MKs from Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu clapped long and loud, and rewarded him with a standing ovation.

An applause police organized spontaneously on the government bench, consisting of three female ministers – Ayelet Shaked, Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev – who were sitting together. When that trio stood up to cheer, one of the others automatically turned around to see whether those in the row behind them, Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yacimovich, were displaying similar enthusiasm.

When Pence spoke boldly about the two-state solution, or made other remarks intimating the need for a political agreement, the faces of the cabinet ministers froze as though the vice president had insulted Zionism itself. The opposite behavior was seen among opposition MKs.

When Pence promised that Trump would annul the nuclear agreement with Iran, the coalition exulted. Kashrut supervisors Regev, Shaked and Gamliel kept watch on what was going on with hawk eyes; Herzog, Yacimovich and Livni rose to their feet after a while. When he promised that the Iranians will never get the bomb, the standing ovation from both sides of the plenum attested to across-the-board agreement. An Iranian bomb isn’t good for anyone, not even for those with the Al-Quds posters who were kicked out.