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‘This isn’t how you run a session!’: Knesset sees rowdy, venomous final meeting

Arab lawmakers clash with each other; opposition leader Netanyahu chides Knesset speaker for not controlling hecklers; MK Ben-Gvir booted for taking photos

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset as Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy sits in background, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset as Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy sits in background, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coalition and opposition lawmakers let fly at each other Thursday morning as the Knesset convened to disperse itself, having failed to do so at a scheduled session the night before.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the government in a speech that was interrupted by hecklers from the floor, a shouting match developed between Arab lawmakers on opposing sides of the house, and a firebrand MK was kicked out of the plenum.

“You promised change, talked about healing, ran an experiment, and the experiment failed,” Netanyahu said of the broad coalition and its diverse mix of ideologies. The coalition, formed a year ago, comprised parties from the left, center and right along with Ra’am, an Islamist party.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced last week on behalf of their eight-party coalition that they would call it quits, triggering elections.

Netanyahu particularly took aim at Ra’am, the first Islamist party to join an Israeli government. Likud and other opposition parties frequently accused the prime minister of partnering with a party they paint as supporting terrorism, though Netanyahu himself courted its support while trying to form a government last year.

“This is what happens when you take fake right-wing with the extreme left, mix it with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Joint List, that’s what you get,” he said, referring to Ra’am’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood movement — and to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party.

Netanyahu was heckled by Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas.

“I entered this government thanks to the cooperation with you,” Abbas shouted at Netanyahu, apparently referring to the legitimacy the former prime minister provided to his party when he himself tried to gets its backing to form a coalition following the 2021 elections. Those efforts fell apart when the far-right Religious Zionism party refused to serve in a coalition with Ra’am.

Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas in the Knesset on June 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As Netanyahu was speaking an angry exchange also developed between Abbas and MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List.

“You kissed [Netanyahu’s] ass to be in a coalition with him,” Tibi called out in Arabic to Abbas.

“Oh, the shame,” Abbas responded, noting that it was his decision to join Bennett’s coalition that had ousted Netanyahu from power. “I sent [Netanyahu] home. You are bringing him back.”

Tibi then pointed at Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, and said to Abbas: “It’s because of that man you aren’t with Bibi [Netanyahu], not because of you.” Smotrich had ruled out his party joining Netanyahu in a coalition last year if it included Ra’am.

MK Ayman Odeh also joined the fray, pointing at Abbas while shouting at Netanyahu: “The Arabs who partnered with you have no values.”

Far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of Religious Zionism was removed from the plenum after he refused to stop taking photographs of other lawmakers with his phone.

Other MKs raised their voices during proceedings, with the hall becomingly increasingly unsettled and noisy.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, chided Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy of the coalition’s Yesh Atid party. “This is not how you run a session!” Netanyahu said, pounding the speaker’s podium so hard it shook. “I am sure that when your party leader [Yair Lapid] speaks you will behave differently,” he said, and called for Abbas to be ejected.

“I don’t take orders from you,” Levy retorted.

“Yes, we know whom you get orders from,” Netanyahu shot back, apparently insinuating that Ra’am had an outsized influence on the coalition.

MK Nir Orbach, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party whose desertion to the opposition was the final straw that prompted the dispersal of the Knesset, told parliament that the past year had been one of “constant struggles and confrontations that sometimes crossed the line of good taste and did not redound to our of this plenum’s honor.”

“The big losers were the Israeli people,” he said. “And here, we all failed, the members of Knesset.”

Orbach lamented that rightists and centrist parties had not established an alternative government in the current Knesset “to prevent the waste of time and money” that will result from the new elections.

MK Ayman Odeh, left seen during a plenum session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his parting speech Abbas said that he would again support the big tent coalition he helped form. “I’d give this coalition another mandate in the future to continue,” Abbas said to the Knesset plenum, following remarks in Arabic.

Abbas said the coalition showed that cooperation between Israel’s Arabs and Jews is possible. “It’s possible to work together,” he said.

“We didn’t find that there was such a big [gap] between all of the parties,” he adds, saying instead that coalition problems were caused by individual MKs who did not share his understanding of the situation.

Abbas said that he will “continue optimistically” to push his vision of Arab-Jewish partnership and that “this process is in progress, we’ve just started.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi speaks during Haaretz Conference at Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa, June 16, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The dispersal bill was eventually passed with 92–0.

Lawmakers also approved November 1 as the date for the next election, which will be the fifth Israel has held within four years amid a period of political instability.

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