Wednesday’s session will probably be remembered as the most controversial of the 18th Knesset. It was business as usual with 105 MKs present in the building at the height of the day and a session lasting seven hours and fifteen minutes. The Knesset passed three bills in their preliminary reading and defeated three other bills including the 443 Bill and the Yisrael Hayom Bill. There were six motions, but the Flotilla motion, which included MK Zoabi’s return to the Knesset Plenum, turned into a two hour and forty minute Jerry Springer episode. My detailed account of what happened is the best you’ll find, short of the censored Knesset website protocols. I do not believe that there have ever been 14 MKs thrown out of the Plenum during one motion until today. I plan on writing an opinion piece on the subject in the coming days, because once again I fear for Israel’s public opinion. The Knesset also voted today on the House Chairman’s statement, and we had several urgent queries with which the Knesset began its day.

Urgent Queries to Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai (Labor)

1) MK Yisrael Chasson (Kadima) expressed concern about meat being exported from Africa and brought in through illegal tunnels to Gaza. He suggested that the reason they smuggle the meat is because the importing of Israeli meat into Gaza is prohibited by the I.D.F.

The Minister responded he is aware of the smuggling of African food into Gaza via tunnels and the prohibition of Israeli meat. He assured he has been working on the issue and will continue to do so.

2) MK Moses (U.T.J.) asked about a new I.D.F. order that will force soldiers to work in the army radio station Gali Tzahal on Shabbat and chagim. He said this will force religious soldiers out of the unit.

MK Orlev (J.H.) added that the only reason a soldier is allowed to work on Shabbat is if it is absolutely necessary. He questioned the rational of forcing religious soldiers to be used as security detail for a useless radio broadcast.

MK Ariel (N.U.) asked that this new I.D.F. regulation be repealed.

The Minister answered he would speak with the Army Rabbis and try to find a solution that will be acceptable for both sides of the issue.

Urgent Query to Religious Minister Margi (Shas)

MK Mula (Kadima) asked why cemeteries have different plots of land for religious burials and secular burials as well as separate plots for Ethiopians.

MK Horovitz (Meretz) added that he has evidence that this is a wide spread phenomenon, especially with Ethiopians.

MK Bielski (Kadima) asked for more transparency of Chevra Kadisha.

The Minister said that there is no separation and if there is a cemetery that does separate he will punish them. He also said Chevra Kadisha has pamphlets with all the burial rights that they are supposed to hand out to the family of the deceased.

Urgent Queries to Interior Minister Yishai (Shas)

1) MK Danon (Likud) asked about the issue of no permits on the construction of Jerusalem.

MK Orlev added that since Vice President Biden’s visit not one building has been approved by the interior committee of Jerusalem.

MK Ariel said there is a difference between the torah that is written and the torah that is spoken. The torah that is written is that there is a freeze in Jerusalem and the torah that is spoken is that there is not a freeze. He asked the Shas minister why there is a difference between the written Torah and the spoken Torah.

The minister said the official position of the government is that there is no construction freeze on Jerusalem.

2) MK Yachomovitz (Labor) asked to change the procedure of the entry of babies born to a surrogate mother into the country, so that it would be allowed.

MK Horovitz added that surrogate babies can cost a family $200,000 and something should be done to help them, since it is forbidden in Israel.

The Minister answered that the issue in the news with the babies from India was complicated because it violates signed agreements between the countries. He suggested that Yachomovitz respect the current laws and treaties with other countries. Exceptions can be made, but this cannot become the new procedure.

Urgent Query to the Education Minister Sa’ar (Likud)

MK Ganem (Ra’am-Ta’al) asked about the complications around the Math Bagrut.

MK Nafa (Balad) said he felt the minister had given different responses to different media outlets.

The minister said that because the original test was leaked. His ministry needed to act and by changing the test, the students didn’t need to wait an extra year to take it. The complications with the new tests were expected because they were written within a tight timeframe of 36 hours before the test. That said, the biggest complication was that in some areas the test was delayed for an hour due to technical difficulties with fax machines. Allegations that the new test was harder than the original one will be checked in the coming weeks.

Amendment on the Supervision of Financial (Insurance) Services Bill

MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) said his amendment would prohibit repairs or rebuilding of vehicles damaged at least 50%, in place of the current 60%.

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) said the government agrees with the change.

The Knesset passed the bill in its preliminary reading 38-0

Amendment on the Protection of Privacy Bill

MK Maklev (U.T.J.) explained his amendment, which he co-sponsored with MK Gafni (U.T.J.), would prohibit the publication or advertisement of a picture of an injured person without his or her consent.

Justice Minister Neaman said this law would hurt the freedom of the press’ coverage of terrorist attacks, but agreed to discuss the matter in the committee.

The Knesset passed the bill in its preliminary reading 35-0 and sent it to the Justice, Law and Constitution Committee.

Amendment on the Traffic Ordinance

MK Matalon (Y.B.) said his amendment would prohibit the current law that limits the time a disabled person is allowed to park in a certain spot, forcing him to go back to the meter every two hours.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) explained that taking away parking meters in all places is unacceptable; however, the government agrees to take them away from most places.

The Knesset passed the bill in its preliminary reading 45-0 and sent it to the Finance Committee.

Basic Law: Judiciary (Amendment – Powers of High Court of Justice)

MK Ketzeleh (N.U.) said his amendment, which has over a dozen co-sponsors, most of whom are from the coalition, will prohibit the Supreme Court from ruling in security decisions that will cause the endangering of Israeli lives. Speaker Rivlin censored certain parts of Ketzeleh’s ten minute speech, which criticized the Supreme Court, despite several Likud Ministers’ objections. Therefore he was given an additional three to four extra minutes to speak.

  • This law will soon be known as the “443 Highway Law” and is another controversial “Supreme Court Bypass Law” where the Legislative Branch puts additional limits on the Judicial Branch. The point of this law is to revoke the court order that opens up the 443 Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem highway to Palestinian traffic.

Justice Minister Neaman said he rejects attempts of the Knesset to get involved in Supreme Court matters.

The bill was defeated 4-55. Netanyahu came in to vote against, which scared off all of the coalition co-sponsors from the room, and only the four National Union MKs voted in favor.

Student Incentives for Extended Reserve Duty Bill

MK Mula (Kadima) said his original bill is the most important bill he has presented. He stated that students are discriminated against for serving their reserve duty, and this bill will not only raise their status to equals, it will also encourage students not to dodge reserve duty. Mula stressed this was not a budget bill and expressed his disappointment with the government’s opposition. Mula accused the government of supporting Chareidim who don’t do any service.

Education Minister Sa’ar said a previous amendment to the Students Bill by MK Miller (Y.B.) has already done most of what MK Mula is suggesting, along with financial incentives. Therefore there is no reason for a new bill.

The bill was defeated 23-51.

Amendment on the Press Bill

MK Solodkin (Kadima) explained the amendment would place a restriction on free distribution and circulation of national newspapers for over a year.

  • As usual when Solodkin gives a long boring speech off the written paper her assistant gave her with her eyes glued to that paper, the MKs and ministers take long walks around the plenum talking and laughing. Netanyahu enjoyed a video clip on MK Ilatov’s ipod. It should be noted that even Kadima’s MKs were talking in a huddle on the side.

Minister Erdan (Likud) said he rejected the “Yisrael Hayom” Bill, which he said violates the freedom of the press. It is unacceptable that a newspaper be censored through legislation because it frequently exposes scandals that are true and usually on left-wing politicians. In addition to prohibiting Yisrael Hayom, this bill will prevent the government from publicizing its free newspaper with the new bill updates.

MK Baron (Kadima) said that MKs and ministers such as Minister Herzog (Labor), who have received financial payments from Yisrael Hayom, shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the issue.

MK Ze’ev (Shas) said he receives Yisrael Hayom in his house and asked if he is allowed to vote. Speaker Rivlin said that the Knesset Judicial Councilor allows.

The bill was defeated 14-61 with one abstention.

  • 6 separate bills were pulled by their sponsors and were not voted on or discussed today.

Motion on the Israeli reaction to the Gaza Flotilla

MK Regev (Likud) condemned MK Zoabi (Balad) for going on the flotilla, calling her a traitor in Arabic. She also spoke about her full support of the I.D.F.’s actions.

MK Shai (Kadima) supported the Israeli blockade on Gaza and called on the Palestinians to stop firing rockets on Israel and to return the captured solider Gilad Shalit. Shai called MK Zoabi’s actions illegal. He also called for an Israeli probe led by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak on the entire Flotilla incident.

  • MK Zoabi entered during MK Shai’s speech and complete chaos erupted. Screaming and shouting in both Hebrew and Arabic from all sides of the Knesset went on throughout the rest of Shai’s speech for several minutes. Deputy Speaker Shama (Likud) could not maintain order.

MK Bareka (Chadash) asked why Speaker Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and Vice Prime Minister Ya’alon all left before the motion. He said they are responsible for the Flotilla deaths. He gave his party’s full support to MK Zoabi’s actions and called the I.D.F. murderers. Security stopped Yisrael Chasson (Kadima) who tried to get on to the podium and take Bareka down. MK Ben-Ari got out of his chair and was contained as well. MK Shai demanded that the Deputy Speaker force MK Bareka to take back his words labeling the I.D.F. murderers. The Deputy Speaker asked Bareka to stop shouting, but to no avail. Bareka charged that not one country is defending Israel’s response. MK Adato (Kadima) got out of her chair screaming and was sent back to her seat. MK Danon (Likud) was called to order twice and was almost removed from the plenum. Barekeh called on the MKs to wake up and for Ben-Ari to shut up.

MK Matalon (Y.B.) said he respected how MK Zoabi could in one day become more famous than MK Tibi or any other Arab MK ever. He spoke about his visit to the hospital and updated the Knesset on the injured soldiers’ well being. Matalon told the countries of the world that the people of Israel remember how France, Turkey and England killed Palestinian “human rights” activists when they were in power in the Middle East.

MK Ze’ev asked why they needed 600 people on a boat if the goal was humanitarian. He called for lifting MK Zoabi’s immunity. MK Bibi (Kadima) called out that Zoabi should be deported to Gaza.

MK Moses recalled the story from the Torah in which Dina’s brothers rescued her and killed the men of Nablus. He wondered why the world thinks there are no circumstances when killing in self defense is allowed.

MK Orlev (J.H.) suggested limiting the authority of MKs to only MKs who accept Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Several Arab MKs were called to order and were almost removed from the plenum.

MK Tzartur (Ra’am-Ta’al) was heckled by just about every Jewish MK in the room. Pandemonium would be a good way to describe it. From what could be understood of his speech over the other MKs’ shouting was that he supports the Flotilla and Zoabi.

MK Oron (Meretz) said there were other alternatives to the I.D.F.’s response. Israel has a right to defend their territory but they probably overreacted. He mentioned that not all of the 600 were bad people, most them were peace activists and most of the boats arrived safely to the shore of Ashdod. He thanked the Knesset for having the first speech that was not interrupted.

MK Magadla (Labor) said that the Flotilla caused a tough day for the peace camp in Israel. He claimed that most Gazans are not supporters of Hamas and they are the ones who were hurt the most by these actions. He said he believed that the Gaza blockade will not bring Shalit home.

MK Ben-Ari (N.U.) did not even start talking before the Arab MKs boycotted his speech and walked out in protest. He called on the MKs to sober up and to support his motion in the House Committee to revoke the Arab MKs’ immunity and to take away their diplomatic passports.

  • MK Zachalka (Balad) was not in the room when Deputy Speaker Shama called his name, so Shama allowed the next MK on the motion a turn to speak. Zachalka, who entered a few seconds later, after Ben-Ari stepped down off the podium, made a big fuss about having his turn skipped. MK Michaeli (Y.B.) told him to shut up and live with the consequences of boycotting a speech.

Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai explained that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A million tons of aid is brought in annually. The Gaza blockade is meant to assure rockets do not enter Gaza that will be directed at Israel. When the organizers of the Flotilla refused to follow proper channels and have the aid go through Ashdod and the Erez crossing with the excuse that they want to break the blockade it became clear that we must go through diplomatic channels to prevent the Flotilla from setting off. We tried and failed. The ships came, and we were forced to board them and search for weapons of terrorism. He explained that you do not ask a ship to turn back when it enters your water, but you ask them in international waters, before they enter your own. He said that they were warned to turn back and instead cursed us with profanity. He disclosed that the people who fought were not peace activists but were mercenaries that were paid a lot of money to kill Israeli soldiers. He said that not one of the dead was innocent and that Israel could have responded a lot stronger than we did. Israel is the only country that videos their missions and publicizes it in order to show transparency. MK Baron (Kadima) said that Israel did not follow proper protocol on convening the security cabinet in order to approve the response.

MK Zachalka (Balad) was allowed to speak. He called for the immediate release of all the arrested Flotilla passengers. He congratulated MK Zoabi for her work against the Gaza blockade and said she deserved a “Tzalash”. His words were heckled by every Jewish MK in the plenum. Zachalka continued his speech after his time was up and Deputy Speaker Shama asked him to stop. Zachalka spoke from his Knesset seat instead and the Knesset almost came to blows. Security removed three MKs who were on their feet by Deputy Speaker Shama’s request: MK Bareka (Chadash), MK Asana (Ra’am-Ta’al) and MK Yoel Chasson (Kadima).

MK Yisrael Chasson (Kadima) called MK Zoabi a traitor and a spiller of blood. He said we didn’t wait 2000 years to come back to Israel in order to get the permission of people like Zoabi. MK Tzartur (Ra’am-Ta’al) got up and looked like he was going to charge the podium and became the fourth MK to be kicked out by Deputy Speaker Shama.

MK Danon (Likud) condemned MK Zoabi and said in English “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!” He spoke about his new proposed law that will kick her out of Knesset.

MK Pelsner (Kadima) said he hopes MK Zoabi goes to Gaza as a 38 year old single woman and we’ll see how she is greeted. He also said we need to see who authorized the I.D.F. response.

MK Shamalov-Berkovitz (Kadima) said she is disgusted that in Israel there are Arab MKs who do not look out for their voters and instead are inciting violence. She said that the Arab MKs killed the people on the Flotilla, not Israel.

MK Asana was allowed to be brought back in order to talk and MK Ben-Ari protested and was thrown out by Deputy Speaker Shama. Ben-Ari was the fifth MK to be removed. MK Afflalo (Kadima) said this was the best play he has ever seen.

MK Agbariah (Chadash) said there was a humanitarian crisis and children are dying from this Gaza blockade.

MK Eldad (N.U.) said the silver lining was that Jewish Israelis now know that Israeli Arabs hate us too. Their MKs are cursing the State in front of an Israeli flag.

MK Afflalo said that MK Eldad should take back his words. Afflalo said that they don’t represent the Arab public. MK Eldad responded that Arab public voted for them and gave them 11 seats. Afflalo said he was embarrassed to be part of a Knesset that has MK Zoabi.

MK Bibi (Kadima) said he supported the I.D.F. 100%. He criticized MK Asana for losing his diplomatic passport five times and accused him of giving them to other people for whatever reason.

MK Zoaretz (Kadima) said she wishes all the injured well and that she was sad for the loss of life. She believed that at least some of the dead were terrorists.

MK Chanin (Chadash) said history will remember today as the lowest point in the Knesset’s treatment of Arab MKs. He blamed the government for every death on the Flotilla.

MK Rotem (Y.B.) asked if the Knesset only today realized that the Arab MKs do not represent the Israeli Arab public. He pointed out that the 100 representatives of the Druze Community in today’s audience are disgusted with the Arab MKs’ behavior. He called the Arab MKs bastards and stepped off the podium.

MK Gilon (Meretz) said he never in his life saw a debate like the one today. Both sides tried to ignite the fire until things got out of control. He said he couldn’t hear any of the speakers aside from MK Oron due to the chaos in the room. He said that the MKs have all gone crazy and he is embarrassed to be part of this Knesset. Deputy Speaker Shama once again lost complete control of the room as hecklers on both sides attacked Gilon who refused to finish his speech. Deputy Speaker Shama asked that security turn off Gilon’s microphone as MKs held their fellow party members back from fighting.

Deputy Defense Minister Vilnai demanded that the Knesset have an immediate vote to end this motion.

The Knesset defeated the Arab side of the motion 10-36. The other MKs’ motion was passed 26-21 and sent to the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, where there are no Arab MKs allowed.

  • MK Zoabi (Balad) was given a chance to respond to all the words said about her over the last few hours. The MKs all started arguing, and the Knesset looked like a complete circus. MK Afflalo called Deputy Speaker Shama a disgrace for allowing Zoabi to speak. It took five security men to take him out. MK Zachalka went up to the podium where Zoabi was going to speak, as did several Jewish MKs who tried to take her down. MK Michaeli tried to block Zoabi from getting to the podium with her own body and was forced out by several security men. The security formed a perimeter around Zoabi. Zachalka hit a few MKs and was thrown out. Fights broke out across the room including much pushing, shoving and screaming. All MKs were out of their seats by this point and complete mayhem ensued. Deputy Speaker Shama stopped the Knesset Plenum session and called an immediate recess and demanded that security take control of the room. Speaker Rivlin was brought back in order to authorize emergency protocols to ensure that the Knesset respects itself. He gave full support to Deputy Speaker Shama’s handling of the most tense debate in Knesset’s history and asked all the MKs to leave if they had a problem. In emergency protocols no MK is allowed to say even one word without the Speaker’s approval. That means that every heckler will be removed. Speaker Rivlin took over the debate and threw out MK Michaeli (Y.B.), MK Ben-Ari, MK Rotem, MK Bibi, MK Matalon, MK Ketzeleh and MK Zoaretz. This brought the amount of MKs thrown out to 13.

MK Zoabi started talking and said all her words would be heard. MKs Rotem and Bibi came back in and were thrown out again by security. MK Danon became the 14th MK to be thrown out of the Knesset. MK Zoabi refused to get off the podium after her time passed, and Rivlin asked that she be removed from the podium. Security detail protected her on her way back to her seat, but she was almost hit by MK Chasson. A few minutes later she asked for security detail to escort her out of the plenum and the chaos ended after two hours and forty five minutes.

Motion on International Environment Day

MK Ezra (Kadima) was upset that the Environmental Minister was not there to answer the motion. He cited many environmental concerns and asked for answers on this international awareness day. He said that we need to do more to support factories that work on lowering pollution.

MK Chanin cited many environmental concerns that challenge us today. He called on bringing Palmachim beach out of private interests’ hands and back into the public’s.

MK Michaeli (Y.B.) said that for once she will not read out what her Parliamentary Assistant wrote her and instead would address Zoabi’s actions. She asked how Zoabi could be allowed to talk in front of the Israeli flag which Michaeli went over and touched. Michaeli said she cares very deeply for the environment but today’s events remind her that there are more important issues. Michaeli said she talked about the provocation of the Flotilla with hundreds of European Parliament members from across Europe yesterday in order to explain our side of things. She said she was so tired she fell asleep and spent the night in her MK office.

MK Ketzeleh discussed environmental concerns with Israel’s water system and the amount of illegal quarries which poison the water, mainly in Israeli Arab areas.

MK Cabel (Labor) said he would also not read out what his assistant wrote for him and instead talk to the MKs in the room Gafni and Rotem, both committee chairmen who he expects will advance his and other environmental bills that they have been holding up. He reminded them that these laws are not a matter of right or left.

MK Gafni (U.T.J.) said that the few viewers are going to have a hard time understanding why there were over 60 MKs in the previous motion and less than a dozen MKs here to discuss International Environment Day.

Minister Margi answered in the name of the Environmental Minister. Margi blasted the MKs who put their name on the motion and chose to leave before it began. He answered that the minister is working on the Palmachim issue. He also said the minister is aware of the challenges Israel has when it comes to the environment given the growing population and higher level of life that is increasing industry and pollution. He is working on answers for dealing with this situation and is also now forced to work on these issues as part of the OECD.

MK Ze’ev stated that this government is greener than the previous one.

MK Levi-Abukasis (Y.B.) felt the water pollution caused by quarries is problematic and the minister should do something about it.

The motion was passed 11-0 for further discussion in the Knesset.

Motion on the decision to give financial benefits to the Palestinians

MK Elkin (Likud) said he does favor financial peace agreements however he is against financial benefits to people who boycott settlement products. He suggested perhaps not calling for a Palestinian boycott but instead taking away the current incentives until they lift their ban.

MK Eldad said he felt that the settlement boycott can be solved in a week but Netanyahu won’t do anything. He felt this would be a good time to take away the financial benefits to the people who are hurting our economy.

Minister Margi said the government is using diplomatic channels to solve the situation of the settlement boycott and that cutting financial benefits would harm the pursuit of peace.

The Knesset voted 12-0 to discuss the matter further in the Knesset at a later time.

Motion on the poor conditions in the Ramat Eshkol and Chashmonaim neighborhoods in Lod

MK Mula said sometimes we need to restrain ourselves and although he condemns MK Zoabi’s actions the other MKs should have restrained themselves. He added that Defense Minister Barak should have also restrained himself with the actions of the Flotilla and called on him to resign his post. He also called for a national probe to investigate the actions taken with the Flotilla. He went back to the titled motion and alleged that despite the fact that these neighborhoods receive government funding the money goes to the non-Ethiopian sections.

Minister Margi said that the money is given to the local mayors and councils and it is their responsibility to distribute it at their own discretion

MK Agbariah called the treatment of MK Zoabi undemocratic and a scandal. He added that he should have been allowed to speak for a full ten minutes like MK Mula because they proposed the motion together. He claimed he is being punished because of the two-day Arab MK strike of the Knesset. MK Magadala allowed him to speak for a few minutes from the side.

The Knesset voted 8-0, and the motion was transferred to the Interior Committee.

Motion on the weight of the Bagrut tests as part of the educational process of high schools

MK Wilf (Labor) charged that the Bagrut and math in general became the measuring stick for a successful Education Minister and a successful Mayor of any city. She charged that the tests have become easier year after year due to a quest for higher grades, as opposed to more knowledgeable students. She accused students of faking learning disabilities for easier tests and other students for threatening violence for higher “protection” grades. Students are taught that only the Bagrut matters, so they don’t show up to school. Wilf stated that in her opinion the Bagrut no longer measures the achievements of a student.

Deputy Education Minister Parush (U.T.J.) called Wilf’s long “lecture” compelling. He said that students have other subjects aside from Bagrut subjects in schools, as well as school trips. He agreed with some of her other statements.

MK Ben-Ari said MK Wilf’s talk was not a lecture but the tough truth and he agreed with every word. He said that both the teachers and the students are to blame and we need to see how we can improve the education of our children.

The Knesset voted 8-0 and the motion was transferred to the Education Committee.

Motion on the permits to the Druze families for visits to Syria and Lebanon

MK Nafa (Balad) and Deputy Speaker Magadla spoke in Arabic to the many Druze in the visitors section for a few minutes, and I didn’t understand a thing. Afterwards Nafa explained the visits are meant for religious rituals. He said the reason the Druze are no longer being given permits is because Israel fears that they will be recruited by Hizbolah or Hamas to be spies.

Minister Margi said that Lebanon and Syria are enemy countries and therefore entry of all Israeli citizens into those countries is strictly prohibited. He said there were a few Druze that were allowed a few visits to family members, but due to the current security situation these permits have been delayed, not cancelled.

MK Agabriah spoke in Arabic for half his speech and criticized Israel’s policy.

MK Ze’ev said he has a wedding in Ra’anana he is late for because he felt it was important to be a part of this discussion. He praised the Druze visitors for waiting hours for their motion. He criticized that only five MKs stayed for the discussion.

The Knesset voted 5-0 and the motion was transferred to the Interior Committee.

  • Seven motions were cancelled because their MKs were not in the room.

Queries to Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Noked (Labor)

All five queries were sent to the protocol because their MKs were not present.

Other Notes:

  • Speaker Rivlin addressed the Czech Republic’s President with a warm speech. This was, of course, before the Flotilla Motion.
  • Speaker Rivlin called for a minute of silence for former MK Luba, who was buried yesterday.
  • The Knesset voted for the House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin’s announcement which allows him to advance certain issues in the committee by an 11-0 vote.
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