Assailed at lecture, Arab MK warns PM’s incitement could lead to ‘murder’

Assailed at lecture, Arab MK warns PM’s incitement could lead to ‘murder’

Protesters picket, curse Ahmad Tibi outside speaking engagement in Ramat Hasharon, 2 detained by police

MK Ahmad Tibi (2nd right) is guarded by a policeman as he arrives at a speaking engagement in Ramat Hasharon, November 30, 2019 (Channel 12 video screenshot)
MK Ahmad Tibi (2nd right) is guarded by a policeman as he arrives at a speaking engagement in Ramat Hasharon, November 30, 2019 (Channel 12 video screenshot)

Several dozen right-wing activists on Saturday picketed a Shabbat cultural and political event in the central town of Ramat Hasharon to protest the participation of Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi. The MK later said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s language towards Arab lawmakers could lead to their murder.

Protesters held placards accusing Tibi of being a “terrorist” and “murderer,” Channel 12 news reported. One sign declared “You’re not wanted here!” while another said “Terrorist supporters — not in our city.”

When Tibi arrived, police were forced to stand between him and the activists, who shouted derogatory remarks at him.

Police detained two protesters suspected of attempting to attack Tibi as he entered the premises.

Netanyahu and his supporters have, without offering proof, portrayed Tibi and other Arab lawmakers in recent weeks as supporters of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

As the political deadlock paralyzing much of the country for over a year has continued, Netanyahu has used language deemed by critics as racist to lash out at Arab lawmakers, whom he has accused of thwarting his chances of reaching reaching a coalition agreement with rival party Blue and White. He warned of the possibility of Blue and White chief Benny Gantz forming a minority government backed by the Arab-majority Joint List from the outside.

Earlier this month the prime minister held a rally where he likened a minority government backed by the Joint List to a “terror attack.” He accused members of the Joint List of seeking to “destroy the country,” and claimed, without proof, that the “dangerous” Arab MKs supported the Gaza terror organizations that Israel fought against in recent weeks.

While some Joint List MKs spoke out against the targeted killing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group’s senior commander Baha Abu al-Ata as well as the IDF’s airstrikes in Gaza, none of them expressed support for Islamic Jihad or its targeting of Israeli civilians.

Netanyahu’s remarks drew criticism from his political opponents as well as President Reuven Rivlin, who in an extraordinary rebuke of the prime minister condemned his “ugly remarks” against an Israeli minority.

At Saturday’s event Tibi said the prime minister’s “incitement” had consequences.

“If a government had been formed with outside support by the Joint List… one of the Arab MKs would have been murdered,” Tibi told the audience.

Referencing long-standing accusations that Netanyahu supported incitement in the days before the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Tibi said: “It’s worked out once for Netanyahu. We’re easier targets than a serving prime minister.”

Ahead of Saturday’s event the national association for bereaved families, Yad Labanim, refused to host the event at one of its facilities due to Tibi’s participation.

Yad Labanim told the mayor of Ramat Hasharon that Tibi taking part in the “Shabbat-culture” lecture series would be too “provocative” a move given what it said was Tibi’s criticism of Israeli troops in the past.

“Ahmad Tibi’s statements have hurt the feelings of some of the bereaved families. The political discourse has been awakened and the current circumstances have stirred the emotions of the public and the bereaved families in particular,” Yad Labanim director Eli Ben-Shem said in a letter to the municipality.

The event was relocated to a nearby venue.

Yad Labanim is the umbrella body that oversees commemoration of Israeli fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks. The organization owns dozens of spaces across the country that serve as guesthouses and venues for various cultural events.

While Ben-Shem added that “Tibi is not unacceptable in my eyes or in the eyes of the bereaved families,” he said “We must strive to not hurt the feelings of the bereaved families who are sensitive to the things that Tibi has said about IDF soldiers over the years.”

Ben-Shem did not say what statements Tibi had made that the families would object to, but in 2012 the Knesset member accused IDF soldiers of being “child-murderers.” He has been a vociferous critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians over the years.

Prior to the event, Tibi’s office said that “obviously, there are differences of opinion between us, but this is the whole point of this panel: to hear the other, bridge gaps and reduce prejudices.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi seen at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem asking to disqualify the Joint List from running in the September elections, August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Arab citizens are descendants of Palestinians who remained in the state after its creation in 1948. Despite having citizenship, Israel’s 1.8 million or so Arabs report discrimination in areas such as housing, public services and employment.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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