Zionist Union Foils Left-wing Arab Lawmaker's Appointment to Israel's Top Defense and Diplomacy Committee

Zionist Union members argued that Meretz MK Esawi Freige's appointment wasn’t coordinated with them and that the seat on the committee really belonged to their party

MK Esawi Freige of Meretz in the Knesset in 2015.
Emile Salman

The Zionist Union party on Wednesday foiled the appointment of MK Esawi Freige of Meretz to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Freige was supposed to replace Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon, who resigned from the Knesset, but Zionist Union members argued that the appointment wasn’t coordinated with them and that Galon’s seat on the committee really belonged to their party, as opposition leader Isaac Herzog had given the seat on the prestigious committee to Galon as a personal gesture. If he had been appointed, Freige would have been the only Arab MK on the panel.

Knesset House Committee chairman MK Yoav Kish intended to announce Freige’s appointment to the full Knesset on Wednesday, which would have made the appointment official, but Zionist Union whip MK Yoel Hasson blocked the announcement. “There was improper conduct here between partner parties,” Hasson said, stressing that the seat belonged to his party.

“Herzog gave it up as a gesture, out of respect for Zehava Galon as chairman of an important, veteran party, which we didn’t want to deny a seat on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,” Hasson said. He added that since Galon resigned, the two parties had discussed who would replace her but there had been no agreement on the matter.

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, meanwhile, insists that his party’s committee seat had nothing to do with Herzog. “We have five mandates and a place on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is ours by any measure,” he said. “Zionist Union won’t appoint MKs to the committee for me. If we don’t come to understandings, I will go to the House Committee and demand what’s mine. Zionist Union has 24 mandates and six seats on the committee.”

Appointing an Arab MK to the panel would be considered unusual, since over the years Arab MKs have avoided the committee so as not to be seen as cooperating with Israeli security policy. The last time an Arab MK sat on the committee was in 2006, when then-MK Taleb a-Sanaa served on it for a few weeks. He at first demanded a visit to the nuclear reactor at Dimona and to receive intelligence updates, but after arguments with then-committee chairman Yuval Steinitz and criticism from other Arab MKs, he left the committee after a short time.