Member of Knesset Yisrael Yitzhak Eichler, from the Haredi party United Torah Judaism, drew attention from the floor when he shared a sentence in Arabic in a late night speech to his colleagues.
“We are with you in your struggle for democracy,” Eichler stated in Arabic before dedicating the remainder of his time towards a silent protest, a gesture of solidarity with other small parties in Knesset.
Smaller opposition parties in Israel feel threatened by a proposed measure to increase the minimum threshold for a party’s election to Knesset from 2 to 4 percent. Had the proposed criteria been in place during the elections for the 19th Knesset, none of the three Arab parties in Knesset would have garnered a seat in parliament.
Eichler closed his speech in Hebrew by saying, “I hope that G-d willing, there will be here a Jewish and democratic state.” In the same breath, the breath line used to close Orthodox Jewish sermons, “[May it be delivered] by Messiah, speedily in our days, Amen. Thank you.”
After his address, Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi kept the language gag going by thanking Eichler in Yiddish, leaving his Haredi Jewish colleagues tickled.
“Mir de araba’ b’dankin eich of de tmicha eigen demokratia,” Tibi said, which translates in English to, “In the name of the Arabs, I thank you for your support for democracy.”
While the spectacle of a Haredi man with sidecurls and a large black yarmulke made for good entertainment, Eichler is not the first Jewish member of Knesset to attract attention for speaking Arabic. Famous Israeli orator and former MK Abba Eban was fluent in Arabic, as was former MK Yossi Sarid. In 1987, they were among four people investigated for appearing on Jordanian television, after an Israeli lawyer affiliated with right-wing activist movement Gush Emunim claimed the appearance “violated the ban on contacts with the enemy.” The interview was conducted by a freelance journalist from Acre:
Eban, a former Labor Foreign Minister and currently chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, has been accused by rightwing and nationalist activists of “consorting with the enemy.” He was interviewed Monday for the Hebrew-language news service of Amman Television by an Arab journalist from Haifa. The interview will be broadcast next week.
It was conducted at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem because the journalist was not allowed in the Knesset building. Eban told Israel Radio Wednesday that he thought it was important for Jordanian viewers to learn of Israel’s official viewpoint on current issues as well as those of the opposition. Sarid, of the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM), is an opposition MK.
Amman Television’s Hebrew service program is widely viewed in Israel. Eban offered to be interviewed in Arabic, which he speaks fluently, to get his message across to the Jordanians. But the interviewer preferred Hebrew.