It’s been a raucous summer session for the Knesset following the national election in spring and the rise of a new “government of change.” Not that the Knesset was ever the most civil of parliaments, but the past month has certainly seen its fair share, if not a noticeable increase in verbal and even physical altercations.
Such was the case on Monday when far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) took to the podium during a plenum discussion regarding the coronavirus crisis.
As is customary, Ben Gvir acknowledged the Speaker of the Knesset before beginning his address. The only problem was that the Speaker of the Knesset, MK Mickey Levy, was not on the dais. Filling his place was Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint Arab List, who Ben Gvir very conspicuously failed to acknowledge.
Tibi immediately interrupted Ben Gvir’s speech and demanded that he be acknowledged and addressed as “Mr. Deputy Speaker.”
Ben Gvir shot back: “You are a terrorist, not a sir or a Mr. You should be in the Knesset in Syria, not here.”
Tibi was having none of it, and motioned for Knesset security guards to remove Ben Gvir. The right-wing lawmaker clung desperately to the podium and tried to continue his speech, but was eventually ripped from it by the guards, who then expelled him altogether from the plenum.
Watch the entire scuffle in the following Hebrew-language video clip from the Knesset Channel:
But that wasn’t the end of the unrest. Opposition lawmakers, most notably from the Likud party, argued loudly with Tibi that he should have shown more restraint and found a more peaceful resolution to the situation. Ben Gvir for his part later promised that the incident would “not pass quietly.”
While Ben Gvir is often labeled a racist, he insisted in an interview on Tuesday morning with Ynet that calling Tibi a “terrorist” had nothing to do with Arabs in general. “I have no problem with Arabs as Arabs,” stressed Ben Gvir. “This was specifically aimed at Ahmad Tibi, who remember used to be an advisor to Yasser Arafat.”
Indeed, Tibi did serve as a political advisor to the PLO leader from 1993-1999. In fact, he had first met Arafat many years earlier in 1984, when it was still a criminal offense for Israeli citizens to do so. Tibi, despite being an Israeli citizen, later represented the Palestinians at the 1994 Wye River negotiations. He left his role with the Palestinian Authority in 1999, when he first ran for and won a seat in Knesset, where he has continued to be a vocal advocate of the Palestinian nationalist cause.