Israeli Labour leader Avi Gabbay has attacked an Arab lawmaker in his own party as an “extremist” for refusing to attend an official Knesset ceremony celebrating the Balfour Declaration centenary.
Explaining his decision not to participate, Labour MK Zouheir Bahloul said that to do so would be inappropriate “when I myself am not free,” a reference to his Palestinian identity.
In response, Gabbay said he is “against extremist statements.”
He added: “[Labour] is not a party of extremists, or those who engage in negative discourse. There is no doubt that they [Palestinian citizens of Israel] are free.”
Bahloul, however, refused to back down: “I don’t understand what is an ‘extreme statement’”, he told Israel Radio. “What I am doing is a critical test to check if my party is capable of dealing with the reality of Arab Israelis.”
In his original remarks to Israel’s Channel 2, Bahloul said: “It is not out of defiance that I will not be attending the session. This is simply not a joint celebration for me and my Jewish friends.”
“What about my people?” he asked. “You received the right to self-determination through the Balfour Declaration, while the Palestinian goes completely ignored.”
The Times of Israel reported that “close associates of Gabbay told Channel 2 at the time…that this would be the Arab lawmaker’s last term on the faction list.”