Ahmad Tibi (Arabic: أحمد الطيبي, Arabic pronunciation: [ˈ(ʔ)æħmæd (atˤ)ˈtˤiːbi], Hebrew: אחמד טיבי, sometimes spelled Ahmed Tibi; born 19 December 1958) is an Arab-Muslim Israeli politician and leader of the Arab Movement for Change (Ta'al), an Arab party in Israel. He serves as a member of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) since 1999, and currently serves as one of ten Deputy Speakers of the Knesset, representing the Arab Israeli MK block. Tibi was acknowledged as a figure in the Israeli-Palestinian arena after serving as a political advisor to the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat (1993–1999). He describes himself as Arab-Palestinian in nationality, and Israeli in citizenship.
Tibi is also a trained physician and graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a gynecologist.
Early life and career in the Knesset
Tibi was born in Tayibe, Israel, a town about 16 km (10 mi) east of the Mediterranean coast north of Tel Aviv, in 1958. His father was born in Jaffa. His grandfather was born in Damascus, Syria where most of his relatives still live. One of his cousins is a very famous female author in Damascus.
Tibi studied medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, graduating with honors in 1983. He began an internship as a physician at Hadassah Hospital in 1984, but never finished, and met PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Tunis that same year.
Tibi served as a political advisor to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat from 1993 to 1999, representing the Palestinians at the 1998 Wye River negotiations. He resigned from this post in 1999 upon deciding to run for the Knesset. Tibi described his relationship with Arafat as "close" and "extremely interesting and important to [him]".
He was first elected to the Knesset in the 1999 elections after establishing Ta'al and running jointly with Azmi Bishara's Balad party, but broke away during the same Knesset session.
In 2002 MK Michael Kleiner initiated actions in the Knesset to restrict movements by Tibi inside the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Kleiner claimed that Tibi was assisting the Palestinians in their war against Israel. Tibi protested the Knesset's decision as unconstitutional and illegal under Israeli law, and appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel, which deferred a decision on the case.
Ahead of Israel's 2003 elections, several politicians, including the heads of the National Union and National Religious Party, sought to have Tibi banned from standing again as candidate; the official motion to disqualify him was filed by Likud MK Michael Eitan, who argued that beside his history as adviser to Arafat, Tibi had supported Palestinian terror throughout the Intifadas and used his immunity as MK since his election to further Palestinian interests. Eitan's motion passed in the Israeli Central Elections Committee by one vote. However, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the Committee's arguments, unanimously overturning the ban, and Tibi was elected as part of a joint list of Ta'al and Hadash. Before the 2006 elections, Tibi took his Ta'al party out of the Hadash coalition and joined the United Arab List (UAL). After retaining his seat, he became a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. He was re-elected on the joint UAL–Ta'al list in the 2009 and 2013 elections.
Inside and outside Israel, Tibi is acknowledged as an effective parliamentarian and advocate for Palestinians who live in Israel and the territories it controls. He was the first Arab member of the Knesset to succeed in passing legislation under his own name against opposition, including an August 2012 law regularizing compensation given by airlines to their customers for delayed or cancelled flights. In 2008, he initiated the establishment of the Parliamentary inquiry committee for the employment of Arabs in the public sector, serving as its chairman until 2012. He was favored several times in media surveys of the Arab-Palestinian population in Israel as the most popular Arab member of the Knesset and cited as best public speaker in the Knesset by parliamentary reporters. As of September 2014, Tibi remains Deputy Speaker and UAL-Ta'al Parliamentary Group Chairman. He is a member of the House Committee and the Finance Committee.
Tibi is an Anti-Zionist. He supports an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state established alongside Israel. He also opposes Israel's character as a Jewish state, claiming that its self-definition as Jewish is racist, and favors Israel becoming a "state of all its citizens". Accordingly, he supports removing icons that represent the special status of the Jewish majority, including the Law of Return, the flag, and the national anthem. He opposes the recruitment of Arab citizens of Israel into the IDF. Tibi also supports the Palestinian right of return, calling it a prerequisite for reconciliation, but has stated that he believes only a small percentage of Palestinian refugees would actually choose to move to Israel.
Tibi continues to be considered controversial in the Israeli politics mainly due to his wide relations with Palestinian and Arab parties and his speeches in the Knesset. However, Tibi is also known for having pronounced a moving speech to commemorate Holocaust Day in 2010 at the Israeli Knesset. Yair Lapid reported on Israel's Channel 2: "Knesset elders claim that it might have been the best speech ever given in the Israeli Parliament".