A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Arab MK Ahmed Tibi's Voting Suspended After Lampoon, Bilingual Double Entendre

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli member of the Israeli Knesset, had his privileges suspended for a day for a poem he recited on the floor of the Knesset. He was lampooning a member from the rightwing Yisrael Beitenu  Party who had spilled water on another member. Ha'aretz provides an English translation of Tibi's rather forced poem, which he recited in Hebrew. The objection is that, after considerable and labored effort, he manages to conclude with the Hebrew words "a glass of madness," Kos Amok. As anyone who knows Arabic knows, that sounds almost identical to the most obscene (and arguably the most common) Arabic insult, involving one's mother's anatomy. Since the Arabic obscenity is also well-known (and often used) in Israeli Hebrew, the double entendre stirred up a fuss. Someday I may work up the courage to discuss the remarkably versatile vocabulary of cursing and obscenity in Arabic, but for now I will merely point out what this otherwise perhaps opaque controversy is really all about. Tibi reading his poem in Hebrew follows (remember, those last two words are Hebrew, not Arabic, which would be offensive.)

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