This 9-minute video, showing Israeli Jewish MPs’ reaction to a speech by Haneen Zoabi today, offers a very revealing insight into how Israel’s tribal democracy works. And it isn’t pretty.
Even in the British parliament, which is imploding at the moment, it is impossible to imagine scenes like these.
Zoabi made the speech after Israel agreed this week very belatedly to pay compensation to the families of nine humanitarian activists killed by Israeli commandos in 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, as it plied international waters on its way to deliver aid to Gaza. In fact, it would be more accurate to say Israel assassinated the activists, as a way to deter others from following in their wake.
The Marmara was a Turkish vessel and the compensation was part of Israel’s reconciliation deal with Turkey.
Zoabi was the only Israeli MP on the ship, and was accused of treason by Knesset members for participating in the aid flotilla. She became public enemy number one and received many death threats at the time, including some barely veiled ones from Jewish MPs.
All the exchanges in this video are in Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to understand the language to understand what is going on. One Jewish MP, Oren Hazan, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, heckles Zoabi non-stop for more than four minutes, with the Speaker doing nothing more than politely asking him to calm down and refrain from interrupting.
Remember that Palestinians MPs are regularly ejected from the Knesset for far less than this kind of barracking and violation of parliamentary protocol. Notice also that the Knesset TV spends as much time, if not more, focusing on the heckler than Zoabi, implicitly legitimising his anti-democratic behaviour.
But when Zoabi accuses the soldiers of “murder” at about 4.30-min into the video, all hell breaks loose. A dozen or more Jewish MPs rush to the podium and start circling Zoabi like a pack of baying hyenas. By this stage, when Zoabi is being physically threatened by a number of MPs in the parliament chamber, you might think it would be time for some of them to be forcefully ejected, if only to indicate that this subversion of the democratic process will not be tolerated. But not a bit of it. They are treated with kid gloves.
The Knesset guards simply try to block the violent Jewish MPs from reaching the single Palestinian MP in their sights, presumably fearful that were she to be physically assaulted that might make headline news and make Israel look bad.
Paradoxically, the only MP you can see on the film being pushed out of the Knesset chamber is Zoabi’s party leader, Jamal Zahalka, who from the look of things is interceding because he’s worried she is in danger. Hazan was finally removed, though after more than eight minutes of heckling, threats and belligerence.
Another paradox: Zoabi and her fellow party MPs have only recently been allowed to speak in the Knesset again, after the ethics committee (dominated by Jewish MPs) suspended them for several months because of their “unacceptable” political views.
I doubt very much that any of these Jewish MPs, even though they have threatened and tried to physically harm another MP, one from the wrong tribe, will suffer any consequences at all for their behaviour.
Zoabi said in her speech: “I stood here six years ago, some of you remember the hatred and hostility toward me, and look where we got to. Apologies to the families of those who were called terrorists. The nine that were killed, it turns out that their families need to be compensated. I demand an apology to all the political activists who were on the Marmara and an apology to MK Haneen Zoabi, who you’ve incited against for six years. I demand compensation and I will donate it to the next flotilla. As long as there’s a siege, more flotillas need to be organized.”
In addition to the violent reception from MPs visible on film, there was widespread incitement from other MPs. Michael Oren, who a while back was Israel’s ambassador to the US, sounded like Avigdor Lieberman as he said Zoabi’s speech proved she was not loyal and should be permanently stripped of her parliamentary status, under a soon-to-be-passed Suspension Law.
In true colonial style, the government’s chief whip, David Bitan, was reported to have told Palestinian voters in Israel after Zoabi’s speech: “We need to make sure she doesn’t stay in the Knesset. We’ve had enough of this and she doesn’t even represent you properly.”