ACRI to Knesset Speaker – Vebal Abuse and Silencing at the Knesset

6 June, 2010

Attn: Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin
The Knesset

Read MK Rivlin’s response to ACRI here.

Dear Sir,

Re: Verbal Abuse and Silencing at the Knesset

We are writing to you in the wake of the June 2nd Knesset debate on the Gaza flotilla, in which Member of Knesset (MK) Hanin Zoabi was severely attacked when she took the Knesset podium.

Being the stronghold of democracy and a leading government authority, the Knesset is an important symbol for the people and should, along with its members, serve as a role model of safeguarding the freedom of expression and human dignity, and of holding honorable and truthful discussions of public issues, particularly when disputed.

We were sorry to see the plenum discussion on the flotilla deteriorating into an outburst of violence. The aggressive and racist remarks made in the House were a painful, upsetting, and dangerous expression of the way our MKs’ violate their civic duty, turning the Knesset into a place of intolerance, silencing, chauvinism, and basically anti-democratic behavior. These are grim signs for the state’s residents.

Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights, the apple of the eye of any democracy and its existence. The ability to realize this right is examined precisely at times of great conflict, when differences are vast. It is in such moments that a democratic society – primarily the Knesset – must honor the diversity of opinions in it and allow them to be fully and freely expressed. This is of importance not only in terms of the quality of political debate in the House, but also for the public-educational level, as the House sets an example for holding debates on loaded issues in Israel’s public realm. The fact that this type of debate is been avoided in the Knesset plenum is not a positive omen for the vitality of the Israeli democracy.

Attempts to silence and prevent MK Zoabi and other Arab MKs from speaking from the podium with physical and verbal violence gravely harm our democracy.

Furthermore, they reflect on the intolerance, racism, and impatience toward minority rights in Israel, particularly the rights of the Arab minority. Verbal abuse, unbridled attacks, and the aggressive atmosphere in the House encourage grave incitement against MK Zoabi and the Israeli Arab public in general.

I would like to specifically address the chauvinistic remarks that MK Plessner made when he chose to refer to absolutely private and irrelevant aspects of MK Zoabi’s biography. He would never make such remarks when referring to a male MK. This type of discourse harms women status in the State of Israel. MK Zoabi does not need our protection, but with his chauvinistic remarks, MK Plessner shamed himself and dishonored the Knesset. We wish only to restore that honor.

We must refer to things as they are. Shockingly, the scenes we witnessed in the plenum authentically reflect the sentiments of many, too many members of the Israeli public. Given these circumstances and the gravity of the incident, it is the Knesset speaker’s duty to deliver a message to the public and the Knesset that this kind of conduct will no longer be tolerated in the House.

Before concluding this letter, I would like to point out that the events that took place at the Knesset plenum are part of a broader and far more dangerous reality of anti-democratic abuse in Israel. Regrettably, we have recently witnessed attempts to drive disputed positions out of the Knesset and to delegitimize both MKs who represent minority or disputed views, as well as social and human rights organizations whose stands inconvenience certain political parties. This attempt to distance individual stands in general and human rights issues in particular from the Knesset’s legislative processes and debates was yet another grim moment in the history of the slippery slope that the Israeli society is currently on.

This grave trend particularly seeks to mark Israel’s Arab citizens as “enemies of the state,” forcing them to prove their “loyalty” according to the dictates of certain political parties. The public moods are fed in part not only by the nature of the Knesset discussions, but also by the wave of bills that attempt to portray the Israeli Arabs as a Fifth Column in our midst. Verbal abuse in the Knesset instigates incitement on the street too. No one can tell where this might lead us. It might be disastrous. Unfortunately, instead of containing and preventing the escalation of dangerous anti-democratic trends of this kind, the Knesset practically fans the flames of abuse.

It is particularly in view of the above that I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your condemnation of and personal reservation from these plenum events. I do not know if the Knesset speaker has the power to stand fast and return the House to the track of open and matter-of-factual discussion of every issue, loaded as well as routine ones, about our lives here. Thus, I consider your candid and undisputed commitment to democratic values and their authentic expression in the Knesset to be of high importance. I hope you will find a way to harness your commitment to a process that would change the dangerous trend that seems to be stumping out essential democratic expressions at the Knesset.


Hagai El-Ad
Executive Director
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

CC: Members of Knesset

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Categories: Anti-Democratic Initiatives, Arab Citizens of Israel, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression

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