Knesset Iftar meal canceled due to Arab MKs’ boycott

Arab parties angered by passage of Bedouin resettlement plan and the Knesset speaker’s disciplinary measures against MKs

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Ahmad Tibi, in the Knesset plenum in June, tears a bill regulating the Bedouin settlements in the Negev. (photo credit: screen capture/Knesset Channel)
Ahmad Tibi, in the Knesset plenum in June, tears a bill regulating the Bedouin settlements in the Negev. (photo credit: screen capture/Knesset Channel)

The Knesset speaker’s ceremonial Iftar dinner is a tradition in the Israeli parliament, a moment of interreligious understanding in a building usually better known for giving voice to the nation’s strife and divisions.

On Monday, though, the Iftar dinner will become a casualty of the tensions between the government’s policies and Arab MKs. Led by MK Ibrahim Sarsur, the house’s Arab MKs have decided en masse to boycott the dinner, which was scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. in the MKs’ cafeteria.

“We decided we couldn’t participate at this time, so nobody from the Arab parties is going,” said a source from Sarsur’s United Arab List.

A spokesman for Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who was to host the dinner, confirmed it had been canceled.

Sarsur sent Edelstein a letter in recent days informing him of the decision to stay away from the event.

According to a United Arab List spokesperson, there were several reasons behind the boycott, “but the main one was the Prawer Plan.”

The Prawer Plan, developed by former minister Benny Begin and Prime Minister’s Office director of planning Ehud Prawer, seeks to regulate the settlement of Bedouin tribes in southern Israel.

As the plan passed its first reading in the Knesset in June — it must pass a third reading before it is signed into law — Arab MKs protested vociferously in the plenum. Several of them stood on the podium and, one after another, accused the legislation’s architects of racism and tore up copies of the bill. At one point, Edelstein ordered MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List) to be removed from the plenum hall after he poured a glass of water on the bill and on the speaker’s podium.

“I’m telling you in the name of all Arab citizens, not only those living in the Negev — you’ve gone too far, both morally and politically,” Tibi said at the time.

Jamal Zahalke (Balad) said the bill was “not fair, not just, not moral, not human,” and called it “a declaration of war” against the country’s Arab population.

In the aftermath of the session, Edelstein sought disciplinary action against some of the MKs, including the removal of Tibi from the Knesset House Committee.

The plan passed the first reading by a vote of 43 to 40.

The United Arab List source told The Times of Israel on Sunday that MKs had taken pains to participate in the Iftar dinner when it was hosted by former speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), but that Edelstein had gone too far in his disciplinary measures and had expressed support for the Prawer Plan.

But though Rivlin had a better relationship with Arab MKs when he was speaker, he, too, has expressed support for the plan.

“It’s time to show national responsibility and pass the law to regulate the Bedouin settlements” in the Negev, he said before the June vote. Parliament must “show leadership” and find a solution to the ongoing conflict between the state and the Bedouin, “despite criticism from here and from there,” he added.

That plan called for the country to officially recognize and register the vast majority of the Bedouin settlements throughout the south of Israel and to compensate those who were to be moved off state-owned land.

Edelstein’s spokesman declined to comment on Arab MKs’ criticism of the new speaker.

Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.

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