Left-wing MKs reacted angrily to a right-wing walkout during the speech of EU Parliament President Martin Schulz in the Knesset Wednesday.
Schulz criticized Israel for its blockade of the Gaza Strip and for allegedly allowing Palestinians far less water than Israelis. The comments caused a storm of protest from the right-wing Jewish Home party, some of whose members walked out while Schulz was addressing the Knesset plenum.
“The behavior of the Jewish Home MKs was shameful and scandalous,” said opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor).
“I think some of the [MKs] didn’t even hear the speech,” he told Israel Radio shortly after the incident. “My colleagues and I were embarrassed. We know Martin Schulz. He defends Israel’s position, including in the European Parliament.”
Schulz’s speech included “deep, historic words about the justice of Israel, about the Shoah and its lessons, about the battle against anti-Semitism and against evil; it was very impressive. And then he talked about our relationship with the Palestinians and the founding of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of the two-state solution. We have to get used to the fact that even our friends around the world are sometimes critical of us, and they’re going to say it. In the Knesset itself far worse things are said,” Herzog added.
Schulz had used the speech, delivered in his mother tongue of German, to reassure Israel of the European Union’s friendship, asserting that it plans no boycott against Israel and is committed to the Jewish people’s right to live in peace and security.
“The blockade of the Gaza Strip is your reaction to attacks on the civilian population. But it also does not allow real development and drives people to despair, which in turn is used by extremists,” Schulz said. “Perhaps the blockade creates not more, but less, security.”
Schulz also recounted a meeting he held two days ago with young Palestinians, saying they dream of something that most people take for granted: “to live in their own country, without violence, without restrictions of movement.” Palestinians have the same rights as Israelis to self-determination and justice, Schulz said.
“One of the questions from these young men that moved me the most was: How can it be that Israelis are allowed to use 70 liters [of water] per day and Palestinians only 17?”
At this point, several right-wing MKs yelled out in protest, with a number of Jewish Home party lawmakers, including Orit Struck and Moti Yogev, stalking out of the plenum. Minutes after Schulz finished speaking, Economy Minister and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett released a statement demanding an apology for “two lies that the Palestinians fed him.”
“The words that were heard in the Knesset are very grave,” Bennett said. “Silence in the face of false propaganda legitimizes actions against Israelis. I will not accept false moralizing against the people of Israel, in Israel’s Knesset. Certainly not in German.”
Yogev said that today Palestinians received the same amount of water as Israel and that Israel is actually “taking care” of Gazans, providing them with food and cement “that is being used against” Israel.
“His support for Palestinians who incite for the destruction of Israel, from the Knesset podium, 70 years after the Holocaust, is a chutzpah without parallel,” Yogev said, referring to Schultz.
“I’m not familiar with the facts about water quotas,” said Herzog, “but these are claims that can be dealt with, looked into, respectfully. Don’t put on a show. [Much of Schulz’s speech] would make Israel proud around the world, and we can only hope that every member of the EU Parliament will study it.”
Meretz chair MK Zahava Gal-on was even harsher in her criticism. Responding to Jewish Home MKs’ complaints that criticism of Israel in German was especially problematic, she said in a statement: “The use of the Holocaust as a way to avoid dealing with international criticism isn’t just disgusting, it’s ridiculous.”
Jewish Home MKs were angry that Schulz “had dared to say that Israel needs to think about its relationship with the Palestinians,” she said.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.