Arab MKs walk out on anthem during Knesset swearing-in ceremony

All lawmakers from Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad parties exit during ‘Hatikva’; three legislators absent from entire event

Arab MKs from the Hadash-Ta'al party hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Arab MKs from the Hadash-Ta'al party hold a press conference after meeting with President Reuven Rivlin on April 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

All MKs from the Arab Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad parties exited the hall during the national anthem, “Hatikva” (The Hope), at the end of the swearing-in ceremony for the 21st Knesset on Tuesday.

Separately, three of the 120 people elected to serve in the Knesset — Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and Hadash-Ta’al’s Aida Touma-Sliman and Yousef Jabareen — were absent from the ceremony. They will still need to take their oaths of office before officially being considered MKs.

Yachimovich announced in advance she would miss the ceremony. Touma-Sliman said she wasn’t at the ceremony due to a family gathering overseas planned ahead of time.

“And with this opportunity I swear allegiance to fight for civic and national equality for the Arab Palestinian minority; to resist the occupation and for peace that will only be achieved with the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem,” Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter.

Jabareen said he decided to stay home.

“I wasn’t eager to participate. I feel like a sort of foreigner to all the symbols [of state] there,” Jabareen told the Kan public broadcaster.

“I preferred to stay in the north and take part in the party for Hapoal Umm al-Fahm’s promotion to the Israeli Premier League,” Jabareen said, referring to a soccer club in the northern Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.

Hadash-Ta’al had its strongest showing in the polls in Umm al-Fahm, where it earned 80% of the vote.

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also during Tuesday’s ceremonies, Arab lawmakers Ahmad Tibi and Osama Sa’adi also walked out during a recording of Israel’s first president David Ben-Gurion declaring independence for the new state in 1948.

Earlier in April, leaders of Hadash-Ta’al informed President Reuven Rivlin that they would not recommend anyone to serve as Israel’s next prime minister.

The faction is an alliance of a socialist party that emphasizes Arab-Jewish cooperation and an exclusively Arab faction.

During the meeting with Rivlin, party head Ayman Odeh blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what he branded his “divisive” election campaign.

“We endured the most difficult election campaign, which included unbridled incitement by the prime minister,” Odeh told Rivlin. “Since 1948, there has not been such a thing.”

Netanyahu drew condemnation last month from Arab Israelis and their allies for stating that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the nation-state law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — and not anyone else.” He also courted controversy on election day in 2015 when he published a video urging right-wingers to vote because Arab Israelis were “flocking” to the polls.

Hadash-Ta’al has also harshly criticized Likud for facilitating the placement of hidden cameras at voting stations in Arab communities on election day this time.

Touma-Sliman sent a letter on April 15 to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding he push for the collection by law enforcement agencies of cameras and any material recorded by Likud activists in Arab polling stations.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman leads a Status of Women and Gender Equality Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud admitted that it was behind the scheme to place a reported 1,200 hidden cameras in voting booths in Arab towns, which party officials said were designed to counter what they alleged were areas at high risk of voter fraud.

“This is an unprecedented move by Netanyahu of direct and deliberate incitement, this time with deeds and not only with words,” Touma-Sliman wrote.

Fifty-two percent of eligible Arab Israelis cast ballots in the last election, Yousef Makladeh, an Arab Israeli statistician, estimated; others have put the figure lower. In the 2013 and 2015 elections, some 54% and 63.7% of Arab Israelis, respectively, voted, according to estimates calculated after those elections.

Hadash-Ta’al won six seats in the April 9 election, while Ra’am-Balad won four.

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