An Israeli minister lashed out at Arab Knesset members for disrupting US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech Monday in the parliament, branding them “traitors.” In response, Arab lawmakers demanded legal action against the minister for “incitement.”
After MKs from the Joint (Arab) List party held up signs reading “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” during the speech, Ze’ev Elkin, minister of Jerusalem affairs and environmental protection, tweeted that “the Joint List MKs are traitors.”
Elkin wrote that when the Arab lawmakers “say that the moment the US stands with Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority it becomes an enemy, they are favoring the PA’s interest over the Israeli interest and that is treason.
“Those who support terrorist groups and oppose strengthening the Israeli interest are traitors!” he said.
“They are in office only due to the mercy of the Supreme Court,” Elkin added, alluding to the court’s repeated rulings against efforts to disqualify Joint List members from running for office.
The MKs were thrown out of the plenum by parliamentary ushers for brandishing the signs, in a scene that lasted less than a minute, but saw angry pushing and shoving.
The phrase “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine” was printed on the signs in both English and Arabic, but the Arabic line read “East Jerusalem.”
MK Issawi Frej of the left-wing Meretz party said he had asked Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to examine whether Elkin’s statement is illegal and constitutes incitement to racism.
“Such a senior minister and security cabinet member should set an example, rather than incite against public servants and the many people who voted for them,” Frej wrote to the attorney general.
“In addition to distorting the facts, Elkin is displaying severe misunderstanding of the democratic rules of play when he dismisses a party that won almost half a million votes in the latest elections and claims they are in office only because of the court,” Frej added.
The Joint List said Elkin should be put on trial for his tweet, branding as “incitement” ministers’ reactions to its members’ “legitimate political stance.”
“Benjamin Netanyahu called the Joint List’s stance a ‘disgrace,'” the party said in a statement. “But the real disgrace is the Netanyahu-Trump axis of evil partnership, which is meant to prevent peace and will cause bloodshed. Trump has broken all records and become a supporter of the [Israeli] right and the settlers.”
Pence’s speech “is a eulogy at the peace process’s funeral, encouraging annexation, settlement and continued occupation,” the Joint List concluded.
Frej added regarding Pence’s speech that “the Knesset today resembled the ballroom on the Titanic; everyone is celebrating, while the ship’s captains are steering it into an iceberg. Those who celebrated today celebrated the end of the peace process.
“The call for peace and promoting the two-state solution was nothing but lip service, with the sole goal of legitimizing a one-sided policy that is thwarting negotiations.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was among the first MKs to publicly condemn the Arab lawmakers’ outburst, tweeting that the Joint List “proved once again that they are representatives of terrorist organizations in the Knesset.”
“Their shameful behavior exposed to everyone their disloyalty to the state and its symbols. Only when Israeli Arabs allow other voices to represent them will there be a chance for true peace,” he concluded.
Likud MK Oren Hazan later confronted Zahalka outside the plenum and called him and his fellow faction MKs “terrorists.”
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As Zahalka attempted to speak to reporters, Hazan shouted him down and said he was an “embarrassment” to the electorate that he represents.
Monday’s protest was in response to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Pence, for his part, brushed off the interruption, saying he was “humbled to speak before such a vibrant democracy” before continuing his speech, in which he vowed the US embassy would be moved to Jerusalem before the end of 2019.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.