Israeli Arab MK threatens to file libel suit against envoy to U.S.

In letter of complaint, Ahmed Tibi criticizes Michael Oren for claiming the United Arab List-Ta’al MK supports suicide bombings, demands retraction.

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi submitted an official complaint to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, following an article by Israel’s envoy to the U.S. Michael Oren, according to which Tibi had retained his position as deputy Knesset speaker despite his support of suicide bombers.

tibi - Moti Kimche - February 15 2011

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) - Photo by: Moti Kimche

In an article published last week in the Foreign Policy magazine, titled “Israel’s Resilient Democracy,” Oren claimed that Israel’s Arab citizens enjoyed equal rights, and that Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion emphasized that Arab citizens must be allowed to vote and be elected to the Knesset.

“In fact, Israel has tolerated acts that would be deemed treasonous in virtually any other democracy. Ahmed Tibi, who once advised PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and recently praised Palestinian “martyrs” — a well-known euphemism for suicide bombers — serves as a member and deputy speaker of the Knesset,” Oren wrote.

Having read the article, Tibi was especially upset over Oren’s claims that he had lauded suicide bombers. In a letter of complaint addressed to the Foreign Ministry’s Director General Rafi Barak, sent also to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, the Israel Arab MK indicated that he had never granted such support.

“Mr. Michael Oren attacked me, distorted my words, and claimed that I support suicide bombers against Israelis, in utter contrast to my declared positions,” Tibi wrote in his letter.

The United Arab List-Ta’al chairman also said that Oren’s piece was published after it had been made known in Israel that a video purported to display a speech in which Tibi lauded suicide bombings was “maliciously edited, and after many, included journalists Ben-Dror Yamini and Dan Margalit retracted their criticism against me on this matter.”

In addition, Tibi indicated that according to civil service protocol “senior officials cannot attack elected officials (even if they’re Arab!),” adding that Oren’s article represented an offense against that regulation.

The Israeli Arab MK demanded that Israel’s U.S. ambassador retract his statements, “both because of the lie and because of the ban on attacking elected officials,” adding that if his demand was not met he would have turn to the legal avenues and file a libel suit against Oren.

In response to Tibi’s letter, the spokesperson of Israel’s U.S. embassy said that Oren’s article “relates to the resilience of Israel’s democracy, one which allows broad freedom of opinion and expression, including views and action which outrage the majority of the public”

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By Barak Ravid