Political Lynching of an Israeli Arab Lawmaker

Haneen Zoabi remarked 'you murdered,' which was later interpreted as 'Israeli soldiers are murderers,' after she was insulted and shouted at by her Knesset 'colleagues.'

MK Haneen Zoabi being removed from the podium at the Knesset, February 8, 2016.
Emil Salman

The commotion over Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, which has been shamefully fanned not only by elected officials (other than Meretz and the Joint List), but also by some in the media, the so-called watchdogs of democracy, is shocking in its blindness. If heaven forbid democracy here ever is entirely trampled, the incident that occurred this week in Israel’s parliament will be a prominent milestone in that ugly descent.

Anyone reading the minutes of the Knesset session rather than relying only on edited television accounts will discover that the speech Zoabi made that caused such a fracas was not extreme in its content at all. In fact, it’s hard to call it a speech. From the moment that she took the rostrum, MK Oren Hazan simply shut her up by yelling comments such as, “You hypocrite, get going to Gaza.”

Zoabi remarked, “you killed them,” which was later interpreted as “Israeli soldiers are murderers,” after she was insulted and shouted at by MKs. And she repeated it when Knesset members wildly congregated around her, a scene of the kind that would occur in an unruly parliament in one of the world’s least developed countries and appear on late-night television as some kind of curiosity.

The problem in this instance wasn’t what Zoabi said, but rather her “in your face” audacity in addressing the Knesset, the very personification of the nation. It’s a nation for which national honor – not the future of its children, or the strategic importance of forging cooperative relations, or even its continued existence – is what motivates it. A majority of the people have viewed the reconciliation agreement with Turkey as humiliating without thinking for a moment about the advantages it presents, about the need to reach agreement with as many countries in the region as possible – and elected officials from the entire political spectrum are stirring up emotions.

There is no point in complaining about the behavior of Hazan, an MK whose low personal standards speak for themselves. That’s who he is. That’s his style, and he represents a large segment of the public that reveres ignorance, crudeness and stupidity. It is apparently also too much and nave to demand that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is trying to burnish his battered image following the reconciliation agreement, particularly after his good friends in the cabinet came out and scored points at his expense with right-wing voters – should conduct himself as a responsible prime minster and stop being the obsessive politician he is. He needs to demand Zoabi’s head to enable his image to weather the headlines in Yedioth Aharonoth.

It’s actually the members of the opposition whose conduct is particularly repulsive and frightening. Zionist Union MK Hilik Bar, who affectionately pinched Hazan’s cheek before joining in on his yelling, MK Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid, who ran to the rostrum yelling “filth” and “scum of the earth,” and the Zionist Union’s Erel Margalit, whose personal fortune isn’t saving him from making a fool of himself through a parody that no one is buying.

And then there’s the opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, who several weeks ago made his way to Netanyahu’s door, which was slammed again and again in his face. Now he’s a local Rambo who wouldn’t stoop to signing an agreement with Turkey. (“You should be ashamed of yourself, Zoabi. [You’re] another reason why we should not have paid compensation to [our] soldiers’ attackers.”)

When MK David Bitan from his high standing as a Jew asserts that Zoabi isn’t fittingly representing the Arab; when Ofir Akunis, in a case of shocking misunderstanding about the rule of law, decides in advance that no panel of Supreme Court justices will overrule a decision to remove Zoabi – who’s on the other side, other than the Meretz party? Faceless petty bureaucrats who, except for nuances of style, conduct themselves like the last of Likud’s hollow patriots.

Out of a great desire to curry favor, out of a great ideological void and a blurring of values, the opposition MKs stupidly roar the refrain “the soldiers are the children of us all,” and like Hazan, in total blindness that leads nowhere, they don’t stop for a moment to think about how the current reality was created. Or how it might be possible to stop sacrificing the children of us all, how to stop sending them to be the policemen of the occupation, land on the deck of a ship on the high seas, such as the Turkish flotilla ship the Mavi Marmara, and get clobbered.