MK Jamal Zahalka
MK Jamal ZahalkaFlash 90

Arab Israeli MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) declared during a government debate at the Knesset that Israeli Jews are an “enemy of peace.”

Zahalka aimed the remark at government minister Yuval Steinitz during the debate on the referendum bill, which will ensure that every citizen of Israel will have a right to vote on whether to accept or reject any final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The Knesset approved the referendum bill on Wednesday night in its the first reading by a vote of 66 to 45, with no abstentions. The measure must still pass two more readings in the Knesset before it becomes law.

During the discussion, Zahalka told Steinitz, “You’re an enemy of peace. We were here before you, and we’ll be here after you.”

Zahalka has often positioned himself as representing Arabs from the Palestinian Authority, rather than those in his own constituency, citizens of the State of Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was present at the debate, shot back, “The first part [of your statement] is not true – and the second part will never happen.”

The floor of the Knesset broke out in applause in response to the prime minister’s reply.

Passage of the bill, which received a green light by the Cabinet on Sunday, means the government cannot approve any territorial compromise or “land swap” with the PA without the deal first going to a nationwide referendum. However, the bill only applies to land concessions in territories where Israeli sovereignty applies -- which means any agreements over Judea and Samaria, which were not annexed by Israel, are not included in the measure.

Zalhaka was also among the members of Knesset who opposed the Governance Bill, which would make several changes to laws relating to the establishment and ousting of coalition governments. It would also increase the vote threshold for the Knesset from two percent of the national vote to four percent.

The Israeli Arab legislators chose an unusual way to express their anger on Wednesday night. Instead of continuing the passionate debate over the bill, they chose to use their three minutes on the Knesset podium to protest with silence. MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) explained the protest. “This law is intended to silence the Arab parties,” she accused. Therefore, she said, MKs chose to remain silent.

MKs Zahalka (Balad) and Hanin Zoabi (Balad) stayed silent on the Knesset podium as well. Zahalka taped his mouth shut as well, prompting MK Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid) to joke, “Careful with the mustache.”