A far-right MK filmed himself at the Knesset plenum on Monday making racist comments about opposition lawmakers, including treating a lawmaker from a majority-Arab party like a farm animal while saying one should “talk to them in a language they understand.”
With one exception in the case of a Yesh Atid lawmaker, MK Almog Cohen of Otzma Yehudit refused to apologize to all but one of the lawmakers he heckled on Tuesday and went on to explicitly say MKs in the Hadash-Ta’al alliance were “not worthy of being sheep, they’re not humans,” vowing to make “their lives miserable.”
In his video, which was streamed live on social media, Cohen is seen filming Hadash MK Ofer Cassif — the only Jewish MK in Hadash-Ta’al — and making clicking and hissing noises at him to draw his attention.
“Shut your trap!” he calls out, before calling out the Arabic word “Uskut!” (“Be silent”) and making animal calling sounds.
“When you talk to them in their language they understand you,” he says to lawmakers in his vicinity, including Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who appears to chuckle. “You need to talk to him like a sheep.”
“I’m not telling him to be quiet in Hebrew because he doesn’t speak Hebrew,” Cohen adds, also likening the MK to a dog.
He also says of Ta’al’s Ahmad Tibi, a trained gynecologist: “That’s a doctor. I wouldn’t let him treat my dog.”
Cohen goes on to say Yesh Atid’s Merav Ben-Ari “has a voice like a floor cleaner’s.”
מישהו פונה לכהן והוא עונה ״אה? לא לא.. רק לשונאי ישראל אני אומר ברה רק לכסיף״ pic.twitter.com/Anc6kJeGhU
— Lior Kenan – ליאור קינן (@LiorKenan) February 21, 2023
At another point, Likud MK May Golan approaches Cohen, urging him to shout the word “out” in Arabic — like a shepherd to his flock — at an unidentified female lawmaker.
“Not to Jews,” he says in response, apparently ignoring the fact that Cassif is Jewish. “To Jews, I yell ‘take a hike.'”
On Tuesday, Cohen said he was sorry — but only to Ben-Ari for making an “unfortunate comment” about her. He was entirely unapologetic about his comments on Hadash-Ta’al MKs.
“These MKs are terror supporters,” he was quoted as saying by the Walla news site. “My goal is to make them feel uncomfortable and whatever causes that is legitimate.”
Speaking with Channel 12 news, he went even further.
“They’re traitors. It might have been inappropriate because they’re not worthy of being sheep, they’re not humans. I will make their lives miserable,” he said.
He was also adamant in his refusal to apologize during an interview with Radio 103FM.
“I understand you don’t jibe with my style, but I’m coming and representing the nation,” Cohen said.
Responding to the insults, Tibi took a dig at Cohen’s portly physique, quipping to the Knesset Channel that “when you don’t have a neck, oxygen gets to the brain more slowly — that’s the problem.”
The typically acerbic Tibi also asked Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana if he backed Cohen’s performance and what the Knesset’s policy on animal noises is. “Are you allowed to bark like dogs, or only bleat like sheep,” he asked, according to the Walla news site.
Cohen’s remarks Monday came during the first votes on bills that are at the heart of the government’s push to overhaul the judicial system, including by giving politicians full control over the selection of judges and sharply curbing the High Court’s ability to strike down laws, and allowing 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members to re-legislate them when it does.
The far-right MK is a member of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit party, whose leader, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, has previously been convicted of incitement to racism.
Ben Gvir was for years a self-described disciple of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose extreme platform called for expelling Arabs and criminalizing sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews, but has recently tried to distance himself from some of his spiritual mentor’s views.
Kahane’s Kach party was declared a terrorist organization by both the Israeli government and the US State Department a few years after the rabbi’s assassination in 1990, after which it disbanded.
Ben Gvir also used to hang on the wall of his Hebron home a picture of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs. He removed the picture once it became clear it harmed him politically and has since said he no longer considers Goldstein a “hero.”
Ahead of the November 1 elections — in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing, ultra-Orthodox and far-right parties won a plurality of Knesset seats — Cohen was caught on hidden camera saying Otzma Yehudit’s recent moderation of its extremist positions is a “trick” to enter parliament, implying members actually hold far more extreme ideologies than being voiced at the time.