No doubt the cucumber season, or the silly season, is upon us, with temperatures in Israel staying above 30° Celsius until Rosh Hashanah, and wedge-issue battles erupting in the Knesset daily, Monday’s bout between this Knesset’s masters of the street theater was practically inevitable. And delicious, if you dig street theater.
In the right corner, an attorney with a string of High Court appearances, a student of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, and a heavyweight street warrior – Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. In the left corner, a gynecologist who served as political advisor to arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat – Joint Arab List leader Ahmad Tibi. Both hate each other’s guts and both see one another as representing the epitome of what’s wrong with the other side. On Monday, at the Knesset, they met for the parliamentary equivalent of the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
Ali won by a knockout in the eighth round. Tibi probably won by points on Monday – although no one doubts there will be a rematch sometime soon.
The fight began in the plenum after MK Ben-Gvir began his speech without the standard opening, “Mr. Speaker.” Deputy Speaker Tibi remarked: “MK Ben-Gvir, it is customary to say, ‘Mr. Speaker, Honorable Knesset.’ I ask you to adhere to the instructions of the Speaker of the Knesset.”
MK Ben-Gvir resented this jab and hit back: “You are not a ‘Mister,’ and show me the item in the protocol. Where is it written in the bylaws? Go study the law first and then come to me.”
As Tibi continued to interrupt Ben-Gvir, insisting that he mouth the requisite opening line—clearly attempting to push his opponent off-balance—Ben-Gvir erupted: “I’m not stopping the speech because you will not tell me to stop. Who are you? You’re a terrorist! You should be in the Knesset in Syria! You are a terrorist and you will not shut me up.”
As soon as Ben-Gvir uttered the magic word “terrorist,” which this session he has used at least three times in committee debates with members of the Joint Arab List, Tibi quickly called him to order three times in the same breath (normally there should be a pause between the calls to order, you know, to let the MK come to order), and shouted: “Get rid of him immediately! insolent! (he used the Hebrew word Chatzuf, which is a derivative of Chutzpah, which in the local lingo has none of the cute ethnic charm it does in American culture – it just means insolence).”
Two Knesset ushers then tried to force Ben-Gvir off the podium, but he escaped their hold and persisted in his refusal to leave. So they called in a third usher and overcame his resistance, while he kept shouting, “You will not shut my mouth! You have no authority!”
Ben-Gvir later issued a statement saying: “Ahmad Tibi is a terrorist who gave the security guards instructions contrary to his authority. This will not pass in silence. We will complain against Tibi at the Ethics Committee and already this evening I addressed the Speaker of the Knesset, Miki Levy, demanding the removal of the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, MK Tibi.”
Good luck with that, seeing as Speaker Levy supported his deputy’s action Monday night, and the fact that this Knesset has yet to appoint an ethics committee, what with the daily battles over wedge issues between coalition and opposition.
MK Ahmad Tibi, for his part, on Tuesday morning on Channel 12 News accused Ben-Gvir of “verbal and physical violence,” pledging “zero tolerance for those who call the speaker a ‘terrorist’ – insulting the speaker is a blatant assault.”
“Ben-Gvir’s indecent habit of calling the Arab MKs ‘terrorist’ must end,” Tibi said. “I acted calmly in the face of the rampage and the verbal and physical violence of Ben-Gvir who acted like a bully. An Arab deputy speaker named Ahmad is still a deputy speaker.”
In conclusion: great street theater, kudos to both champs, and send more cucumbers.
Tibi also told MK Orit Strock to “shut up” and kicked her out of the plenum too.
— ערוץ כנסת (@KnessetT) July 26, 2021
Ben-Gvir subsequently sent a letter to the Knesset Speaker demanding that Tibi be suspended from his position as deputy speaker.