How Israeli MKs turned a fake UN resolution into a cudgel against Arab lawmakers

Report on Joint List-led measure criticizing nation-state law was used by MKs on right and left to score political points, though story appears to have been manufactured

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Ahmed Tibi addressing a special meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on November 29, 2017. (UN/Kim Haughton)
Ahmed Tibi addressing a special meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on November 29, 2017. (UN/Kim Haughton)

On Monday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin of the governing Likud party took to Army Radio to accuse Arab Israeli MKs in the Joint List party of committing “treason.”

The basis for his claim: A Sunday evening Hadashot television news report on a purported attempt by members of the second-largest opposition party to advance a resolution in the United Nations that would condemn Israel for the recently passed nation-state law.

The primetime report cited a meeting by Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman with UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo last Thursday, during which the idea for a resolution was said to have been raised.

According to Hadashot news, DiCarlo’s office subsequently updated Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon on the contents of the meeting and the Israeli envoy then reported back to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who expressed outrage.

The TV report kicked up a storm, and Levin’s treason charge was just the start. Lawmakers from across the spectrum rushed to castigate the Joint List — a party whose members sometimes draw the ire of other factions — for using an international platform to “air Israel’s [dirty] laundry.”

However, with both parties involved in the UN meeting having refuted the claim that there was any discussion of an anti-Israel resolution, the widespread outrage appears to have been largely manufactured, with parties on both sides of the aisle seeking to score political points on the back of the Joint List.

Even after the Joint List denied the report and it became apparent that the Hadashot report was misleading at best, lawmakers on both the left and right have shown little interest in walking back their criticism.

Shortly after the initial report aired, nearly two dozen lawmakers issued statements voicing their disgust.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, speaks at the General Assembly on December 21, 2017, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the report to attack opposition party leaders Avi Gabbay (Zionist Union) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) for “being for the Palestinians and the Arab MKs and against the nation-state law that preserves the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Housing Minister Yoav Gallant asserted it was “now time for the justice system to enable the outlawing and booting from the Knesset of those dangerous extremists.”

But the majority of condemnations came from opposition members, led by opposition chief Tzipi Livni and eight other members of the Zionist Union party, who appeared keen to differentiate themselves from their Arab colleagues.

“We will stand against the Arab MKs’ attempt to act against Israel and condemn it at the UN… We will continue to strongly oppose anyone who wants to harm the existence of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or its existence as a democracy,” said Livni in a statement less than an hour after the Hadashot news report.

“The MKs of the Joint List continue to denigrate our country everywhere. We will continue to fight this phenomenon,” tweeted Gabbay one minute later.

When it came turn for Joint List lawmakers to respond, however, the foundation for the widespread outrage quickly began to crumble, though no lawmaker has yet retracted their statement.

A spokesperson for Gabbay claimed that Arab MKs, in the wording of their denials, had left room open for a future UN resolution against the nation state law and that therefore, the Labor chairman has nothing to retract.

UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary Diancarlo (L) and Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman at the UN on August 23, 2018. (Courtesy)

Touma-Sliman flatly denied any resolution was ever discussed in the meeting with Dicarlo and said that the idea hadn’t even been on her radar.

The Joint List MK fingered Danon as the source who provided Hadashot news with what she claimed was a false report.

Her proof, she indicated, was simple. Touma-Sliman and her colleagues have never hidden their opposition for the nation-state law, or their attempts to lobby members of the international community to condemn it.

“Apparently he [Danon] hasn’t been following Knesset discussions. We said out loud that the law is reminiscent of dark dictatorships, enshrining discrimination and racial separation, and that we would battle it in the Knesset, the High Court, in the streets and before the international community,” said Touma-Sliman in a statement.

Fellow faction member Ahmad Tibi similarly denied there had been any intention to advance such a measure at the UN.

“There is no such Palestinian resolution. It was invented by Danny Danon, who goes into hysteria and sends urgent telegrams to the Foreign Ministry,” he said in a conversation with The Times of Israel.

Tibi also said Hadashot news had reached out to his party for comment, but their denial did not prevent the television report from being aired. The repudiation was not even included in the news channel’s report.

The Times of Israel spoke with two other officials present at the meeting with Dicarlo, who similarly denied that the issue was raised.

Ahmad Tibi shouts and points in the direction of Danny Danon (not seen) at the Knesset on October 11, 2010. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90.)

An adviser for Touma-Sliman clarified that while the nation-state law was discussed during the meeting, a resolution against it was not.

He added that had the lawmaker been interested in having a resolution against Israel introduced, the office of the undersecretary for political affairs “would not have been the address.”

It is the members states themselves, not Dicarlo, who would be responsible for drafting such measures.

Moreover, the adviser said Touma-Sliman did not meet with Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour, who would likely need to be in the loop if such a proposal were to be introduced.

The Hadashot report said Mansour was also involved in efforts to advance such a resolution — an allegation that the ambassador called “an invention of the imagination of Danny Danon.”

Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, center, attends the UN Security Council emergency session on Israel-Gaza conflict at United Nations headquarters on May 30, 2018 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)

Nonetheless, an Israeli diplomat stood by the assertion that the point of the meeting had been to discuss an anti-Israel resolution. He said Danon’s office managed to learn about the meeting through officials (which he would not name) and that the Israeli ambassador subsequently reached out to Edelstein.

Touma-Sliman’s adviser scoffed at the suggestion Danon’s office needed to learn about the meeting’s contents through back channels. He explained that Dicarlo is required to update the respective ambassador of the country of any parliamentarian he meets with. In that update, the under-secretary’s office disclosed that the nation-state law was discussed. No mention was made of a UN resolution.

United Nations Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo. (UN/Twitter screen capture)

After being told that participants in the meeting had denied that the anti-Israel measure had been raised, a spokesman for Danon appeared to backtrack from the assertions of the Hadashot news report.

He clarified that Danon’s letter to Edelstein did not specifically cite any resolution mentioned, but rather lambasted the Joint List MKs more generally for “working against the State of Israel” and “causing great damage.”

However, in a statement referencing the Hadashot news report, no attempt was made by Danon to clarify that no resolution was discussed during the Thursday meeting at Dicarlo’s office.

In response to The Times of Israel’s request for further comment, a statement was released in the name of “diplomats from the Israeli delegation to the United Nations.”

“The facts speak for themselves. Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh appealed to the Secretary General of the United Nations in 2016 through the Palestinian delegation demanding the establishment of an international commission of inquiry against the State of Israel regarding the treatment of the Arab minority in the country. Ahmad Tibi took part in the November 2017 event of the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations, which focused on slander and incitement against the State of Israel and IDF soldiers. MK Aida Suleiman participated in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation and last week met with UN Secretary General Rosemary DiCarlo and criticized the State of Israel,” the statement read.

The Israeli UN delegation went on to assert that Danon would not allow lawmakers to act against the state they were elected to represent.

The statement left out any mention of a UN resolution. Criticism of the Joint List over it, however, has remained all the same.

Following publication of this report, Danon released the following statement in his own name: “The cooperation between the MKs from the Joint List and the Palestinian delegation is unfortunately nothing new. There is no such precedent in the UN in which parliamentarians are acting against their country… We will stand proudly and continue to represent the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

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