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Zionist Union Distances Itself From ‘Children Under Occupation’ Conference

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Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union alliance and the Labor party, leading a meeting at the Israeli Knesset on Nov. 20, 2017. In the background is a photo of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister and Labor leader. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90. – Senior Zionist Union lawmakers on Sunday lambasted fellow party member MK Ksenia Svetlova, who, together with MKs Michal Rozen (Meretz), Ayman Odeh and Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) organized the Children Under Occupation conference slated to take place at the Knesset on Monday.

One senior Zionist Union MK remarked Sunday that “we very much oppose holding this conference at the Knesset. To my regret, MK Svetlova didn’t coordinate the decision to organize this conference with the faction nor did she ask for the faction’s support.”

“In our view,” the lawmaker continued, “it is inappropriate for an MK from our faction to join up with MKs from the Joint Arab List and Meretz and initiate such an event, addressing various aspects in the lives of children under the Israeli occupation: poverty, restricted movement, shortage of power, water and education as well as child detentions, discriminatory legislation that hinders family reunification and the effects of the Gaza blockade.”

Knesset sources noted that the MKs who initiated the conference chose to break with protocol by failing to request approval for the event from Knesset management. The organizers tried to obscure the true nature of the event by requesting a ‘gathering’ titled ‘education under the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ the sources said.

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The official request to convene the conference was submitted by MK Svetlova.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein banned the screening of a video, produced by conference organizers, featuring the daily lives of Palestinian children in Gaza and Judea and Samaria. He cited the Knesset regulation forbidding screenings at regular Knesset meetings and allowing films to be screened only at certain events and at lobby meetings and only with the express approval of the Knesset Department of Events and Ceremonies.

Edelstein said he asked Knesset Director General Albert Sakharovich to convene an urgent meeting on the upcoming conference. “They organize large events under the pretext of a ‘gathering,’ as if they are hosting innocuous visitors. I would expect that those responsible take care of our own children’s problems first,” Edelstein said.

Also addressing the controversial occupation conference, Yesh Atid Chairman MK Yair Lapid said the Zionist Union had “lost it.”

“They collaborated with the Joint Arab List and invited Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and other BDS supporters to the Knesset for a ‘children under occupation’ conference,” Lapid said. “It’s a gift to the enemies of Israel.”

In response to the criticism, the conference organizers said that “the efforts by the Right, and its pale shadow Lapid, to intimidate us will not discourage us. The occupation harms Palestinian children and threatens the future of Israel’s children as well.”

“As a society that values life, it is our duty to discuss this,” the organizers said in a statement. “The Knesset must serve as a beacon of democracy and free speech. Any attempt to silence us and hide the occupation is doomed to fail.”

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