Middle East News and Opinions
Livnat questions legitimacy of bill passed by Arab MK’s vote By Zvi Zarhiye and Gideon Alon
A Middle East Update, 9 Feb 2005
Far be it from me to spoil the great moment: Sharon, the “man of peace” (thus G. W. Bush), is bringing peace to the Middle East! However, amidst the waves of excitement, I would like to bring you another illuminating story that occurred yesterday in my country, not unrelated to the new hopes for peace. A story that resonates for me and my colleagues also on a personal level.
As you may know, Sharon’s “disengagement” plan depended much on the “evacuation-compensation bill” voted yesterday by the Knesset Committee, authorizing the generous financial compensation given the settlers who will be evacuated from the (very) few settlements the pullout plan will hand back to the Palestinian authority. The settlers lobby at the Israeli parliament, including many of Sharon’s own right wing party (and enjoying unofficially the sympathy of Finance Minister Netanyahoo, Education & Culture Minister Livnat, and Foreign Minister Shalom, who would not officially oppose Sharon’s plan just because, given the popular support for the evacuation, minimalist as it is, it would mean political suicide for them), did everything in its power to hamper the bill. When however it reached yesterday a decisive point, it was passed by a majority of one: the one decisive vote was that of my good friend and once student, MK Mohammed Barake, an Israeli-Palestinian member for the Hadash Party, who hesitated to the very end, intending to abstain, but once having realized that the bill would not pass without his support has decided to vote for it: as he put it, he was hardly keen on paying the settlers good money, but if the choice was between evacuation and compensation, let the settlers take the money and run (see how I failed as an educator?…)
The settlers lobby, who embraced Barake as a dear exemplary Zionist as long as his hesitation helped them hamper the bill, now vented all their racist ammunition on him once he helped passing the bill. The argument? A bill concerning the fate of Jews cannot be decided by the vote of an Arab. Had it been hampered by Barake’s vote, by the way, you wouldn’t have heard this argument. But… Well, as we all know, evacuating the settlers is an internal Jewish matter, concerning Jews exclusively… Arab citizens of Israel should not intervene in such a private issue. Rings a bell?
And who joined the chorus of disapproval, if not our dear Mini-Stress of Education and Culture, Ms Limor Livnat? Please read Haaretz’s account below, regarding the person in charge of the education and the culture in Israel for almost four years now!
A brief, curious reminder: back in 2002, the same Mini-Stress, in a brave attempt to uphold the educational interests of higher education in Israel, demanded the University of Haifa to suspend a certain tenured professor for having cited Hanna Arendt’s dictum regarding the banality of evil in his class on tragedy. The then Rector of the University, Professor Ben-Zeev (now the President) uncomfortably wiggled out, apologetically writing her that, following the investigation conducted by the then Dean (now Recor) Professor Ben-Artzi, there were no convincing grounds to do so; it took them two years to partially comply with her demand, by driving that evil Professor out of his Department and firing the untenured faculty who supported him. And rightly so!
For better days,
Professor Avraham Oz
9 February 2005:
By Zvi Zarhiye and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent
Education Minister Limor Livnat caused a storm among opposition ranks Tuesday, after she said she felt “uncomfortable” knowing that passage of the evacuation-compensation bill by the Knesset Finance Committee was dependent on the vote of an Arab MK.
Livnat told Army Radio that Barake’s vote was legal, but questioned its legitimacy.
The bill passed in a 10-9 vote, after MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) broke ranks with his party and voted in favor of the bill. It increases compensation for those affected by the disengagement from NIS 2.8 billion to NIS 3.8 billion.
Yahad MK Yossi Sarid said that “if the education minister does not understand that an Arab MK is an MK like any other, just like an Arab citizen is a citizen like any other, what will pupils she is in charge of say?”
Fellow party member Haim Oron said that the education minister gives education a bad name. In what kind of state does the education minister think that a Knesset majority depends on the make-up of its members, and not on a majority, Oron said, adding “I can only hope that Livnat’s racist way of thinking will not be bestowed upon Israeli pupils.”
Other right wing legislators were also critical of the fact that the bill was passed only due to the support of an Arab MK. Druze MK Ayub Kara (Likud) said “it is not surprising that the Sharon government, which was created due to Palestinian citizens of Israel, passes a law which evicts Jews from their homeland, based on those votes.”
Voting in favor were Labor’s Avraham Shochat, Yuli Tamir and Danny Yatom, the Likud’s Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo,l Shinui’s Ehud Ratzabi and Ronnie Brizon, United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman and Yahad’s Haim Oron. Voting against were the Likud’s Daniel Benlulu, Ayoub Kara, Haim Katz, Yehiel Hazan and Michael Gorlovsky, Shas’ Yitzhak Cohen and Nissim Dahan, the National Religious Party’s Nissan Slomiansky and Benny Elon of the National Union.
Up until the vote the coalition was not certain it had a majority. Enormous pressure was placed on Benlulu, the coalition’s whip in the committee, to vote in favor, but he had announced his opposition to the bill beforehand and avoided the committee room up until the last minute. Several times the vote was postponed during the day, as the coalition struggled to come up with a majority vote, and the Knesset printer rushed the bill through the presses to prepare it for a final vote of approval.
Benlulu finally arrived at the committee room, accompanied by the NRP’s Slomiansky and the National Union’s Elon, who expected that with his vote, they could defeat the bill.
But parallel to their efforts, the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ilan Cohen, together with Yahad’s Oron, were pressing Barakeh to vote in favor of the bill after he had announced he would abstain.
When the voting began and it became evident that Barake was voting in favor of the bill, Hazan and Gorlovsky leapt to their feet and began attacking his vote, charging the vote was illegitimate because it passed with an Arab’s vote. Other rightists in the committee room joined in. Barake, backed by Oron and Labor’s Tamir, charged back that the complaints against his vote were racist. Barakeh later said that he was not impressed by “the racists of the right” and that he expected they would try to intimate his vote was illegitimate. Knesset sources explained that Barake was persuaded to vote in favor of the bill on the grounds that it failure might lead to even more generous terms for settlers leaving the settlements.
Ironically, if the committee had voted the bill down, it would have gone back to the plenum, where the full house would be asked to vote to approve or disapprove of the committee’s work. Since there is a solid majority in the Knesset in favor of disengagement, it is probable that the bill would have passed there.
The bill will only reach the plenum next Wednesday because the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee must go over the various elements in the bill referring to criminal activity in the context of refusal to evacuate. Likud MK Michael Eitan, chairman of the law committee – and a disengagement supporter – rebuffed pressure from the PMO for him to bring the bill to his committee Wednesday. Instead, he has scheduled a special session of his committee for this coming Sunday, in Tel Aviv.