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Arab-Israel MKs walk out of Knesset ceremony during national anthem

Knesset Member Dr Yousef Jabareen at MEMO's 'Present Absentees' conference in London on April 27, 2019 [Middle East Monitor]
Knesset Member Dr Yousef Jabareen at MEMO's 'Present Absentees' conference in London on April 27, 2019 [Middle East Monitor]

Arab-Israeli Knesset Members (MKs) staged a walk out during yesterday’s Knesset swearing-in ceremony, refusing to listen to the Israeli national anthem.

An official ceremony was held in Jerusalem yesterday for new MKs to swear their oaths of office following the country’s general election on 9 April. However, when the Israeli national anthem “Hatikva” was played at the end of the ceremony, all MKs from the two Arab-Israeli alliances – Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad – exited the Knesset hall, the Times of Israel reported.

Hatikva – literally translated as “the hope” – has long been opposed by Israel’s some 1.8 million Palestinian citizens on the grounds that it does not represent the country’s non-Jewish communities. Its lyrics refer to a “Jewish soul” that yearns “to be a free nation” in the “land of Zion and Jerusalem”.

Earlier in yesterday’s ceremony, head of the Ta’al party Ahmad Tibi and MK Osama Sa’adi walked out during a recording of Israel’s first president, David Ben-Gurion, declaring the new state in 1948. Palestinians however commemorate 1948 as the Nakba, when 750,000 people were forcibly displaced from their ancestral homes.

Meanwhile veteran MK Yousef Jabareen of the Hadash party boycotted the swearing-in altogether, opting instead to attend an event in his native Umm Al-Fahm in the Galilee. Jabareen told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan: “I wasn’t eager to participate. I feel like a sort of foreigner to all the symbols [of Israel] there. I preferred to stay in the north and take part in the party for Hapoal Umm Al-Fahm’s promotion to the Israeli Premier League,” referring to the local football team.

Speaking at a conference held by MEMO last weekend to discuss issues facing Palestinian citizens of Israel, Jabareen explained: “For me the Knesset cannot be my home, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is a joyous occasion for me to be there. It is difficult to sit in a Zionist institution with its symbols, but I do this because I believe it is important to represent my community, act on our sumud [steadfastness] and stay in our land.”

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In last month’s election, Hadash-Ta’al won six seats and Ra’am-Balad won four seats in the 120-seat Knesset. However, their combined ten seats represented a loss of three seats on the performance of the now-defunct Joint List, which saw all four Arab-Israeli parties run together on a joint slate in the 2015 election. This year’s election proved difficult for the Arab-Israeli alliances, with voter turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel reaching an all-time low as a result of wide-spread disengagement and foul play by the Likud party on election day.

Image of Israeli parliament Knesset in session [Itzik Edri/Wikipedia]

The Israeli Knesset [File photo]

However, despite these difficulties the Arab-Israeli MKs have vowed to fight against the ruling Likud party and the coalition currently being built by newly-re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The coalition is expected to be even more right-wing than the current government, after right-wing parties Yisrael Beiteinu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) performed well and the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) increased their seats.

Hadash-Ta’al’s only Jewish MK, Ofer Cassif, told MEMO after the election that Netanyahu “is neo-liberal, racist, almost fascist, and the government he is going to form will be even more right-wing than his current government […] We have to be prepared for another very bad time, but I assure everyone who supported us that we are going to bring a real fight to these people.”

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