Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) was forcefully removed from the Knesset podium and ejected from the plenary hall Monday night after he called the Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, who was chairing the session, a “terrorist.”
Ben Gvir, who took to the podium during a debate on coronavirus restrictions, began his address by saying, “With the permission of the Knesset speaker, Mr. minister, your excellency,” referring to the dignitaries in the hall but notably not to Tibi, who, as deputy Knesset speaker, was filling in at the time for speaker Mickey Levy.
Tibi, who heads the Ta’al faction in the predominantly Arab Israeli Joint List party, interrupted Ben Gvir and demanded to be addressed as “Mr. Deputy Speaker,” as is Knesset tradition.
Ben Gvir responded, “You are a terrorist, not a sir or a Mr. You should be in the Knesset in Syria, not here.”
Tibi then ordered the Knesset Guard to remove Ben Gvir from the podium and then the plenum, but the firebrand MK held on to the podium before being physically dragged from the hall. Levy, who arrived at Tibi’s side, appeared to back him up as Tibi repeatedly demanded that Ben Gvir be forcibly removed from the plenum.
The unrest in the hall continued for several minutes, as MKs from Likud argued with Tibi that he should have sought a more peaceful resolution, while Tibi said he had shown “the utmost restraint” toward an MK who had called him a terrorist.
In a statement following the incident, Ben Gvir refused to back down, saying, “Ahmad Tibi is a terrorist who gave security guards instructions contrary to his authority. This will not pass quietly.”
He continued, “There is no clause in the Knesset rules that requires me to say ‘Mr.’ to whoever is conducting the yeshiva, certainly not if he is a terrorist who was [Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser] Arafat’s adviser and should be in the Syrian parliament.”
Ben Gvir said he would request Levy remove Tibi as deputy Knesset speaker for abusing his authority.
Tibi also released a statement, slamming Ben Gvir for his slur and for refusing to leave the plenum, forcing the Knesset Guard to remove him.
“This is disgusting, violent and racist behavior that must be stopped,” Tibi said, adding that the incident would be brought before the yet-to-be-formed Knesset Ethics Committee.
Ben Gvir entered the Knesset in March’s election after merging his far-right Otzma Yehudit party with Religious Zionism, in a deal brokered by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Otzma Yehudit is made up of followers of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, a former MK whose Kach party was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s — the first instance of a party being banned for racism. Otzma Yehudit supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty to Israel and accept diminished status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank.