Arab party lawmakers kicked out of Knesset plenum for protesting Pence speech

Ushers remove all 13 Joint List lawmakers after they hold up signs reading ‘Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine’

Lawmakers from the Joint (Arab) List faction were thrown out of the Knesset plenum by parliamentary ushers after brandishing signs reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” as US Vice President Mike Pence began his address on Monday.

The phrase on the signs was written in both English and Arabic, but the Arabic line said “East Jerusalem.”

The remaining MKs in the plenum applauded loudly in an effort to drown out the shouts from the party’s 13 lawmakers in a scene that lasted less than a minute but saw angry pushing and shoving.

As the ushers finished clearing the MKs from the plenum, Pence continued his speech, saying he was “humbled to speak before such a vibrant democracy.”

Moments later, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh tweeted that he was “Proud to lead the Joint List in strong, legitimate protest, against the Trump-Netanyahu regime’s exaltation of racism and hatred, who speak of peace solely as lip service,”

“Our protest today in the plenum is in honor of all who oppose the occupation and dream of peace,” he added.

Joint List lawmaker Jamal Zahalka accused the ushers of using unnecessary force.

“At the beginning of Pence’s speech, the members of the Joint List stood and began to leave, waving a political sign, while exercising their legitimate right to protest,” he said in a statement afterwards.

“The ushers attacked them brutally, pushed them and dragged them even though they were on their way out without resistance. Our expulsion was done in a collective manner without reading the names of the lawmakers that should be removed, contrary to Knesset regulations,” he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was among the first lawmakers to publicly condemn the outburst, tweeting that the Joint List “proved once again that they are representatives of terrorist organizations in the Knesset.”

“Their shameful behavior exposed to everyone their disloyalty to the state and its symbols. Only when Israeli Arabs allow other voices to represent them will be a chance for true peace,” he concluded.

Likud MK Oren Hazan later confronted Zahalka outside the plenum and called him and his fellow faction MKs “terrorists.”

As Zahalka attempted to speak to reporters, Hazan shouted him down and said he was an “embarrassment” to the electorate that he represents.

Palestinian protesters holds posters of US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as they protest Pence’s visit to Israel, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammedl)

Monday’s protest was in response to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a highly controversial White House address.

For his part, Pence pledged to the Knesset that the US would relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the “end of next year.”

While Israel has feted Pence for the move, the Palestinians have reacted furiously and are refusing to meet with the vice president, who arrived in the city Sunday night.

US Vice President Mike Pence gives a speech at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ariel Schalit)

Pence in his address repeated the administration stance that Trump’s “historic” declaration “would create an opportunity to move on, in good faith negotiations, between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on issues that can be discussed and President Trump truly believes can be resolved.”

On Saturday, Odeh announced that his faction would boycott Pence’s speech saying that the US vice president was “dangerous.”

“[Pence] is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region,” he wrote on Twitter.

Odeh also attacked Trump, saying he was “even more dangerous” than Pence and a “political pyromaniac” and a “racist” woman-hater. He slammed the US president’s Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts and said Trump “must not have a [political] road map for the region.”

The Arab lawmaker said after Trump’s December 6 declaration that the US “has lost its place as the exclusive mediator of negotiations.” echoing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has struck out strongly at the Trump administration since the announcement on Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of its future state. Trump stressed in his speech that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital was not meant to take a position on its final boundaries, which he said should be decided in peace talks between the sides.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (right) sits alongside US Vice President Mike Pence ahead of Pence’s speech to the plenum, January 22, 2018 (screen capture: YouTube)

In addition to being boycotted by Arab MKs, Pence is also being shunned by the PA and will not travel to Ramallah or meet with Palestinian leaders. The PA said it would not meet with any US officials regarding the peace process following Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem.

Pence’s visit to the region comes as Abbas has ramped up his criticism of Trump and his peacemaking efforts. In a speech Sunday, the PA leader called a peace plan being formulated by Trump the “slap of the century” and claimed Israel was a European “colonial project.”

In response to Abbas’ refusal to engage in American-brokered peace talks, the US has frozen tens of millions of dollars in aid to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, although the State Department said the second tranche of funds was being held up due to the need for “reform” at the organization.

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