Unprecedented security on Knesset floor for Pence speech

JERUSALEM—American Secret Service agents will join Knesset security guards on the floor of parliament Monday in an unprecedented attempt to maintain order during an address by US Vice President Mike Pence. MKs will not have physical access to the vice president in order to shake his hand. 

Members of the Joint List Party have said both that they would “boycott” and “protest” Pence’s speech, but when asked whether the party’s MKs were planning to boycott the speech, walk out in protest or to disrupt the proceedings, a party spokesman said only “you’d better stay tuned.”

Despite the threat of disruption, however, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he did not expect that the enhanced security force would have to act to maintain order. Erdan said that the Knesset will treat Pence’s visit with the honor and dignity it deserves, but added that the has no expectations that Arab MKs will act honorably because  they have no dignity or respect.”

“That celebrator of terrorists, Ayman Odeh, is calling Mike Pence dangerous? Before we allow Odeh to throw around accusations, people should understand who he is: Ask him if Hizbullah is a terror group. Ask him about the mass murderer Arafat, who he eulogized, but then turned around to boycott the funeral of Shimon Peres,” Erdan said.

The speech is scheduled to be the centerpiece of Pence’s two-day visit to Israel, but a group of Arab MKs are boycotting the vice president to protest what they feel is a strong shift in US policy towards traditional Israeli positions, including President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States now views Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Notably, neither President Trump nor his predecessor, Barack Obama, addressed the Knesset during their presidential visits here, fearing vocal disruptions from MKs. Similarly, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declined an invitation to address the Australian parliament during a state visit Down Under in February, 2017 in order to avoid possible protests by oppostion members of the Labour and Green parties in Canberra.

Members of the protest movement against Pence would not say whether they planned to disrupt Pence’s speech, or whether they would simply not attend. MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint List party, said only that his faction would not remain silent “during a speech by a dangerous racist whose entire presence here is meant to scuttle the chance for peace. The decision to boycott the speech is a decision to use legitimate democratic tools to express our views, and the hysteria we are hearing about this decision by decision-makers in the Knesset is humiliating.”

Also responding to the move was Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi, who, in a interview to Israel’s Kan Bet Radio, said “Maybe they should bring in the Border Patrol and set up checkpoints at the assembly? Somebody has lost his mind.”