An opposition lawmaker on Tuesday used the Knesset podium to urge citizens of the nation to civil unrest against what he called the “dictatorship” of the new Netanyahu government.
MK Ofer Kasif (Hadash) was quickly removed by Knesset ushers, but his act of public incitement further fueled fears that Israel is inching closer to civil war.
“In light of the current emergency situation, I call for civil unrest…” Kasif said before being interrupted by Deputy Speaker Nissim Vettori (Likud), who called on Knesset ushers to forcibly remove Kasif from the plenum.
The few lawmakers present at the time then erupted in a shouting match, with Kasif and fellow opposition MKs labeling the coalition members as “fascists.”
Kasif is the only Jewish member of an Arab political party, so coalition members from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, many of whom are fluent in Arabic, responded with Arabic slurs.
במשמרת שלי לא ייפגעו בסמלי המדינה. אגלה אפס סובלנות כלפי נציג ציבור שינצל את דוכן המליאה לקרוא למרי אזרחי נגד ממשלת ישראל.
הלילה הוריתי לסדרני הכנסת להוריד את עופר כסיף מדוכן הכנסת לאחר שקרא למרי אזרחי וכינה את חברי הממשלה פשיסטים.
— ניסים ואטורי ???????? Nissim Vaturi (@nissimv) February 7, 2023
Vettori later explained that while freedom of expression is protected in the Knesset, he wasn’t about to let use the podium to incite civil unrest and “harm the symbols of the state,” in reference to the recently-elected government.
Kasif later complained that his democratic rights had been violated, and that he and the opposition would “not rest” until they brought down the “dictatorship” currently governing Israel.
Crossing the line
Israel was rocked last week when prominent figures in the anti-government movement began openly calling for armed violence, and some even encouraged the assassination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This incitement followed weeks of mass demonstrations against the government, which were themselves sparked by calls for civil disobedience from opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz.
The harsh reaction to the new religious right-wing government and its proposed policies has shed a light on just how deep the rifts in Israeli society run.
Democracy on the line
While Netanyahu’s opponents claim they are protecting democracy from him, supporters say it’s the other way around – that the opposition is harming democracy by refusing to accept the results of a fair election.
After years of political deadlock that saw Israelis go to the polls five times in three years, Netanyahu and his religious right-wing allies won a decisive victory in November of last year, controlling a combined 64 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats. By Israeli standards, that’s a firm majority.
And that victory came on the back of a campaign that made clear the new government’s intentions, including sweeping judicial reform.
In other words, a majority of the Israeli electorate supports these policies, or at the very least voted for parties they knew would support them in exchange for other benefits.
Which raises the question: Which side is currently behaving undemocratically?
But a more worrying question is where is this all leading?
All it takes is for one deranged individual to take up the call to assassinate Netanyahu. If, heaven forbid, that were to happen, there is no telling how the other side might respond. But given the hostility that has grown between the two sides in recent decades, and the fact that a plurality of voters are ardent supporters of Netanyahu himself (some even view him as “king”), the end result would be catastrophic for the Jewish state.
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