Acrimonious verbal exchanges erupted between racist, far-right MKs and Hadash lawmakers in the Knesset on Tuesday, June 22, disrupting the special Knesset event entitled “After 54 years: From Occupation to Apartheid.” Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the opposition Joint List faction and MK Mossi Raz of Meretz, a party that is a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, hosted the event which featured representatives from human rights organizations and academics who presented the political and legal situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel, after 54 years of occupation.
MK Raz’s involvement invariably caused rage among the members of the coalition, which was formed under the understanding that its Zionist parties would avoid contentious issues in order not to rock the boat.
During the event, representatives of various Israeli human rights groups presented reports about the situation in the West Bank since the Israeli occupation in 1967. The organizations making presentations included B’Tselem, Adalah, Peace Now, Yesh Din, Gisha, Breaking the Silence and Human Rights Watch.
According to a report filed by the correspondent from Zo Haderech who attended the session, Religious Zionism’s racist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir hurled insults at several Joint List lawmakers, calling organizers Touma-Sliman and Raz “terrorists” and “supporters of terror” and shouting the same accusation at Joint List MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash). Cassif retorted by saying: “Shut your mouth, you piece of shit, racist fascist.” “There are people in here who still refuse to listen to the truth,” said Touma-Sliman to Ben-Gvir, who was removed from the meeting after his own shouting match with Joint List MKs. The coalition’s MK Abir Kara of Bennett’s Yamina party was also removed from the Jerusalem hall by the Knesset guard.
One of the invited speakers was Omar Shakir, an American national who serves as the regional director of the Israel and Palestine division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). He participated in the meeting remotely via Zoom, Israel having denied him a work visa to enter the country because of his anti-occupation activism. “The Israeli government’s policies have been to methodically favor one group, Jewish Israelis, and to systematically oppress Palestinians to varying degrees of intensity,” Shakir said. “History will judge this Knesset and every member of it first and foremost by what they did in the face of crimes against humanity.”
“We have committed this apartheid and it must end,” said Lior Amichai of the Israeli NGO Yesh Din. “In the West Bank, there is a military force that acts in favor of Israelis and against Palestinians in non-humanitarian ways.” He also accused right-wing party leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of wanting to keep Palestinians under permanent occupation.
Before the meeting took place, lawmakers of the governmental coalition Yesh Atid, New Hope, Yamina, Israel Beiteinu, and Blue & White signed a letter to Knesset Speaker Miki Levy asking him to “end Knesset involvement in events that act against the state of Israel, tarnish its good name, and work with anti-Semitic organizations like BDS.” Yamina MK Amichai Chikli denounced Meretz for involving itself in the convention and had called for it to not take place.