Netanyahu: 'No one has the right to accuse the IDF soldiers protecting us of being war criminals'

Deputy minister: I’ll seek to revoke Arab MKs’ citizenship

Prompting storm in parliament, Yaron Mazuz says Israel doing Arabs a favor by allowing them to serve in Knesset, tells Hanin Zoabi to ‘return’ her identity card

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud lawmaker Yaron Mazuz in the Knesset, June 24, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Likud lawmaker Yaron Mazuz in the Knesset, June 24, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Deputy Interior Minister Yaron Mazuz (Likud) on Wednesday said he would act to revoke the citizenship of Knesset members who support protest flotillas to Gaza and said Israel was doing Arabs a “favor” by allowing them to serve in the Knesset.

He said firebrand MK Hanin Zoabi should be the first to “return” her identity card over her participation in a flotilla to Gaza.

The statements, which were made during a debate on canceling the restrictions on so-called family reunification — the granting of Israeli citizenship to Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs — sparked an uproar in the Knesset plenum.

“Ms. Zoabi, you are the first of those who should hand back their identity card,” Mazuz said. “We are doing you a favor that you are even sitting here. Terrorists don’t sit here. You are in a democratic state — respect the state. Anyone who acts against the state through terror has no right to be here. It is unacceptable for members of this institution to take part in terror flotillas against the State of Israel.”

Mazuz was referring to Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, and to fellow Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas’s declaration earlier this week that he would sail with a flotilla hoping to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in the coming days. Ghattas’s announcement was roundly condemned by Jewish MKs across the political spectrum. The Joint List defended Ghattas, saying the flotilla is a humanitarian gesture to the residents of Gaza, who live in a “massive prison.”

Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad) in the Knesset. (photo credit: Flash90)
Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad) in the Knesset. (photo credit: Flash90)

After Mazuz’s speech, the Knesset debate ground to a halt, as various lawmakers denounced him. Meretz MK Michal Rozin ran up to the podium, brandishing her identity card and urging Mazuz to take it away from her.

The prime minister then rose to address the Knesset, accusing the Arab MKs of “hypocrisy” and condemning them for speaking out against the Israeli army.

“All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, have the right to vote and be elected [to Knesset], but every citizen must also obey the laws of the state, and no one has the right to accuse the IDF soldiers protecting us of being war criminals,” Netanyahu said.

“You have the right to have your say, and we will protect that [right], but we don’t need to agree with the hypocrisy,” the prime minister added. “I don’t hear a word from you about what’s happening in Syria or Yemen, but you accuse IDF soldiers of war crimes.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on June 24, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on June 24, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON)

Arab lawmakers responding to Mazuz and Netanyahu said that Israel wasn’t “doing them a favor” by giving them citizenship.

“Bibi thinks I need to thank him for the Israeli citizenship, Bibi thinks he’s doing me a favor,” Meretz MK Issawi Frej said. “So, Bibi, you aren’t doing me a favor. I am an Israeli citizen by right, not by charity, and if you don’t want me here, you are invited to take my citizenship away. Only know: the moment you do that, you will strip Israel of its democracy, and this time it’ll be for good.”

Frej’s comments were echoed by MK Aida Tuma-Suleiman (Joint List), who said Netanyahu was “justifying the incitement campaign of Yaron Mazuz.”

“Those who speak about terror — let them see that they are the ones who are perpetrating terror. No one is doing me a favor by giving me an identity card,” she said.

Tuma-Suleiman’s proposal to cancel the family unification law, which prevents the automatic granting of citizenship to residents of the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israelis, was shot down in the Knesset with 55 MKs against, 18 in favor, and two abstentions. A revised appeal by Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on was similarly rejected with 54 lawmakers opposed, 17 in favor, and two abstentions.

The law, first issued in 2003 and renewed in 2008, also grants Israel the right to prevent citizens of Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, and various other Arab countries from obtaining automatic Israeli citizenship through a spouse.

A statement from the Knesset noted that a large number of opposition MKs were not present at the vote, including opposition head Isaac Herzog, and that the abstentions came from members of his Zionist Union party.

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on announced that her party would stop cooperating in the opposition with the Zionist Union party over this vote.

Quoting Dante, she charged, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.'”

“You’ve failed in [establishing] solidarity in the opposition,” she said, adding that “with this kind of opposition, Netanyahu can rest easy that his leadership will be preserved for many years to come.”

The Zionist Union’s Eitan Cabel later defended his party’s decision.

“I won’t be graded by the coalition, and certainly not by the opposition. The shaming that Zahava Gal-on did here is inappropriate. We didn’t participate in this vote and that’s legitimate,” he said.

Cabel decried the “abhorrent” comments by Mazuz and Netanyahu, and said “the prime minister will convene tomorrow the community leaders to apologize for what he said.”

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