Right-wing and Arab MKs traded venomous barbs during a discussion of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount at a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee Monday afternoon, with lawmakers accusing one another of stoking the flames of violence. Eventually, the Arab MKs stormed out of the meeting in protest.
The subject on the docket was an amendment to the longstanding policy banning Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Judaism and Islam. Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) remarked that while the Chief Rabbinate traditionally upheld the ban, since the inauguration of new chief rabbis earlier this year, “I sought to put the possibility before them to recognize the reality that there’s a large [portion of the] public whose rabbis permit them to ascend the Temple Mount.”
Enraged by the prospect of a policy change, Arab MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) interjected, “There is no such thing as the Temple Mount, there is only the al-Aqsa Mosque,” setting off a shouting match between members of the Jewish and Arab parties.
MKs Zahalke, Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) and Afou Agbaria (Hadash) began shouting at committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud), with Tibi calling her a pyromaniac and “a contemptible settler.”
“What is this, you insolent person!” Tibi shouted at Regev. After Tibi refused to apologize, Regev responded, “Fortunately I don’t need to earn respect from them,” further fanning the flames.
“What do you mean ‘them’?” Tibi retorted. “Who is ‘them’ — the Arabs?”
Leaving the hall, Barakeh jabbed a finger in Regev’s direction, saying, “Anyone who comes to desecrate the al-Aqsa Mosque will find us there and not here.”
“What is that, a threat?” responded Regev, an accusation that Zahalke hastily denied. “Here come the threats,” Regev said.
“The Second Intifada broke out because of al-Aqsa, and because of you [the third] will break out because of al-Aqsa,” Tibi said, standing up and walking out,referring to a visit to the Temple Mount by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon in September 2000.
From the coalition side of the table, an unseen MK shouted in response, “You say that as a friend of [former Palestinian Authority president] Yasser Arafat?”
“I’m proud to have been his friend,” Tibi snapped. “Arafat’s shoe is worth 10 of you.”
Before the Arab MKs departed the meeting, Zahalke pointed a finger at MK Zevulun Calfa’s face, calling the Jewish Home lawmaker a “fascist, racist and settler.” Calfa responded by calling Zahalka a “barbarian.”
After the meeting, Calfa filed a complaint with the Knesset’s Ethics Committee against Zahalke, claiming the Arab MK had physically assaulted him.