Deputy speaker rebuffs Knesset legal adviser who chided him for not being evenhanded

Likud MK, trying to restore order during raucous clash between coalition and opposition, tells attorney she shouldn’t interfere with how he runs session

Deputy Speaker Likud MK Nissim Vaturi at the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Speaker Likud MK Nissim Vaturi at the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deputy Knesset Speaker Nissim Vaturi on Wednesday told the parliament’s legal adviser to butt out after she urged him to be evenhanded in his efforts to restore order when the house erupted in chaotic shouting over remarks from an opposition lawmaker.

Vaturi’s own remark drew rebuke from opposition lawmakers, with one calling on Speaker Amir Ohana to oust the Likud lawmaker from the role of deputy.

A raucous row broke during a Knesset debate on a bill to criminalize public support for terror. As members of the coalition and opposition shouted at each other, Vaturi ordered the removal of Arab MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, an opposition lawmaker whose comments had set off the fracas.

The shouting continued as Vaturi tried to restore order, with MKs scuffling with Knesset ushers and largely ignoring the deputy speaker’s pleas, preventing the debate from continuing.

Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik approached Vaturi as he sat in the raised speaker’s area of the podium and urged him to also eject coalition lawmakers from the hall if they did not calm down.

“You can’t just remove Knesset members from one side,” Afik told him.

“Excuse me, why are you getting involved? Get down,” Vaturi responded in remarks captured by the speaker’s microphone and broadcast to the plenum. “This is unacceptable. You can’t get in my way. Get down!”

“Why is she coming up here and shouting at me?” he continued.

Opposition lawmakers assailed Vaturi and called for his ouster.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli condemned what she referred to as the coalition’s “continuous trampling of the opposition and further trampling of democracy.”

“This is the rudeness and violence that came along with the regime coup,” she added, referring to the government’s controversial and drastic planned overhaul of the judiciary, which critics say will dangerously erode Israel’s democratic character.

National Unity MK Zeev Elkin called Vaturi’s behavior “shameful” and said the coalition was “again crossing all boundaries,” while noting that Afik had been appointed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud when he was speaker of the Knesset.

Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik seen during a Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Anyone who behaves like this is unsuitable to oversee debates in the Knesset plenum,” Elkin wrote and tagged Ohana, the speaker.

Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar tweeted, “They aren’t even waiting for the regime coup and are already behaving like a dictatorship. What a failed coalition.”

The floor erupted after Odeh addressed the plenum and declared his support for the West Bank city of Jenin, hours after the Israeli military wrapped a two-day operation against Palestinian terrorists in the city and its adjoining refugee camp, and on the back of a string of terror attacks, many of which emanated from Jenin and its environs.

The IDF said the operation targeted terror infrastructure.

MK Ayman Odeh speaks during a faction meeting, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Odeh said, “Palestinians are proud of Jenin and rightly so, and now more people will join the fighters against this damned occupation,” referring to Israel’s control of the West Bank.

“Every action has a reaction because it is the law of nature. The occupation has a reaction and this is the resistance, the resistance to the occupation is legitimate, long live the Jenin refugee camp, long live the Palestinian struggle,” Odeh said.

Vaturi later had MK Almog Cohen of the far-right coalition Otzma Yehudit party also removed from the plenum after he refused to stop admonishing Odeh for his remarks.

Advanced in its preliminary reading by 33 votes to seven, the far-right-backed bill debated Wednesday would slap up to five years of prison on a person who publicly commends or expressed support for terror. The bill would also ban public identification with acts of terror that constitute murder or attempted murder.

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