He does not belong in the party, says aides to leader Gabbay

Arab MK from Zionist Union plans to skip Knesset’s Balfour tribute

‘This is not a joint celebration for me and my Jewish friends’ says Zoheir Bahloul; MKs from Joint (Arab) List also to stay away

Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul in the Knesset on December 5, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Zionist Union MK Zouheir Bahloul in the Knesset on December 5, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

An Arab lawmaker from the Zionist Union faction said Monday that he would not be attending a Knesset ceremony next week marking the 100th year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

“It is not out of defiance that I will not be attending the session,” Zoheir Bahlul told Channel 2. “This is simply not a joint celebration for me and my Jewish friends.”

In the Balfour Declaration, which was issued on November 2, 1917, then-UK foreign secretary Arthur Balfour told British Jewish leader Lord Walter Rothschild that His Majesty’s government “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Although the lawmaker recognized the strength of his Israeli identity, he also emphasized his equally strong connection to the Palestinian people. “What about my people?” he asked. “You (the Jewish people) received the the right to self-determination through the Balfour Declaration, while the same Palestinian goes completely ignored.”

The lawmaker and former sport broadcaster added that he had no problem being a member of a Zionist faction, but celebrating the Zionist character of the state when part of his own identity as a Palestinian remains unrecognized was something he could not accept. “I do not think it would be appropriate to participate when I myself am not free,” Bahloul said.

Close associates of new Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay told Channel 2 that Bahloul’s remarks “were too extreme and that his place is no longer in the party.” They added that this would be the Arab lawmaker’s last term on the faction list, although Gabbay does not have the authority to remove members elected by Labor voters.

Joint (Arab) List MK Youssef Jabareen during a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also announcing that they would not be participating in the centennial celebration were the members of the Joint (Arab) List faction. “Of course we will not be participating in the event honoring the Balfour Declaration,” said one of its MKs, Youssef Jabareen, in a Monday statement. “Britain had promised land that did not even belong to it… ignoring its original inhabitants and without even asking them.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will leave for Britain on Tuesday to take part in the UK’s own celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration along with Prime Minister Theresa May and leaders of the British Jewish community.

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