Israeli Ministers Vilify Arab Lawmakers Over Pence Knesset Protest

Despite being called 'traitors' and 'representatives of terror organizations,' Arab MKs stand by their position that the U.S. has forfeited its position as a viable mediator

Israel's Arab parliamentary bloc and Knesset members scuffle with security protesting duringing the speech of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Israel's parliament in Jerusalem, January 22, 2018.
ARIEL SCHALIT/AFP

Arab Knesset members from the Joint List are “traitors,” Environment Minister Zeev Elkin charged on Monday in response to their behavior during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s address to the Knesset.

During Pence’s speech, the MKs brandished signs in Arabic reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.”

“When Zoabi, Tibi, Zahalka and Odeh say that the minute the U.S. sides with Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority, it’s an enemy, they’re preferring the Palestinian Authority’s interests to Israel’s interests, and that’s treason,” Elkin tweeted, referring to Joint List MKs Haneen Zoabi, Ahmad Tibi, Jamal Zahalka and Ayman Odeh.

His cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, also vilified the Joint List MKs. “Members of the Joint List once again proved that they’re the representatives of terrorist organizations in Israel’s Knesset,” Lieberman said. “Their embarrassing behavior revealed their disloyalty to the state and its symbols for all to see.”

The Joint List, which had termed Pence “an unwanted guest” even before his speech, assailed these reactions. They accused the ministers of “inciting” against the expression of legitimate political opinions and said Elkin should stand trial for his remarks.

MK Esawi Freige, an Arab MK from the Meretz party, agreed. He submitted a formal request to Attorney General Avichai Mendelbit on Monday asking him to consider whether Elkin’s remarks constituted incitement to racism, a crime bearing a sentence of up to five years in jail. Freige wrote that such a senior minister “should set an example instead of inciting against elected representatives and their large community of voters.”

The Joint List said in a statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “termed the Joint List’s stand ‘a disgrace,’ but the real disgrace is the Netanyahu-Trump axis of evil, which is designed to prevent peace and will lead to bloodshed.”

The Trump administration, it continued, “has broken all records and essentially become a supporter of the right wing and the settlers,” while Pence’s speech was “a eulogy and a funeral service for peace and a tailwind for annexation, settlement and continued occupation.”

Zoabi said in her own statement that the behavior of both the Trump administration and Israel “shows there’s no room for a diplomatic process that only undermines justice and the Palestinian people, which is living under a sinful apartheid regime.”

Freige largely agreed with the Joint List’s view. “The Knesset today resembled the ballroom of the Titanic,” he said. “Everyone was celebrating even as the ship’s officers were steering it toward an iceberg. The people celebrating in the Knesset today were celebrating the end of the diplomatic process.

“The call for peace and advancing the two-state solution was mere lip service ...’ he added. “Pence spoke today in the name of a United States that has lost its relevance as a mediator, and that’s too bad.”