Balad MKs do not deserve to be in the Knesset after they visited terrorists’ families, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday evening.
The comment came in response to three Joint List lawmakers’ meeting with 10 families of terrorists this week, including one who killed three Israelis. MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas, all from the Balad party that is part of the Joint List, met with the families of terrorists whose bodies have not been released by authorities, including the father of Baha Alian, who, together with an accomplice, killed three people by shooting and stabbing passengers on a bus in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood on October 13, 2015. Police shot and killed Alian at the site of the attack.
Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein examined what steps can be taken against the legislators, and decided to personally submit complaints to the Knesset Ethics Committee about them.
The prime minister also sought Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit’s opinion on the matter.
“It cannot be that when innocent civilians are being slaughtered on the streets of Israel, MKs go to comfort [the terrorists’ families] and with incomparable audacity, even bring their requests to the government,” Edelstein said. “I see this as seriously harming the Knesset and the State of Israel and hope that this will enter the hearts and minds of Supreme Court judges next time they rule on an appeal of the disqualification of unworthy candidates for the Knesset.”
The Supreme Court has overturned all past Central Election Committee decisions to ban Balad or individual members of the party from running for seats in the Knesset.
Edelstein does not have the authority to punish the Balad MKs, but if the Ethics Committee determines the visit was a violation, it can sanction them with suspensions of up to six months from all Knesset activity but voting – a punishment Zoabi received in the past for comments sympathizing with Hamas during Operation Protective Edge - or a new punishment that has yet to be used, docking their salaries. In addition, if the attorney-general finds their actions to be criminal, he may ask the Knesset House Committee to vote to remove their immunity, so they can be put on trial.
Palestinian Media Watch brought to light on Thursday a Facebook post by Balad, calling Alian a shaheed, or “martyr” in Arabic. The same title was used to describe other terrorists whose families were in the meeting.
The Facebook post featured a video clip of Alian’s father, Muhammad, saying that the visit was “warm and productive” and that the lawmakers “listened to the suffering and pain of the shaheed’s families,” and promised to make every effort to pressure the government to release terrorists’ bodies.
In addition, Alian said the MKs planned to meet with the families again, to update them on their efforts.
Palestinian news agency Maan reported that the meeting in east Jerusalem opened with a moment of silence and a reading from the Koran, after which Muhammad Alian, “the official spokesman of the martyrs’ families,” welcomed the lawmakers, according to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch.
The MKs emphasized their Palestinian identity, Maan reported, and said they will do all they can to pressure Israeli decision-makers so that the bodies will be buried, as not burying a body is a severe sin.
“The [MKs] saluted the families’ strong stance and their endless struggle against [Israeli] aggression,” the report reads.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) called the visit a stain on Israel’s history.
“I call on the Arab public: You are better than them. Reject them. Condemn them. We will not have unity among us if our public representatives meet with our murderers,” Bennett said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said, “Arab MKs do not miss an opportunity to support terrorism. They foremost harm their own voters, because they do not represent or promote anything other than supporting terrorism and activity against the State of Israel.
“The Arab public should be the first to come out against its representatives that are acting as agents of terrorism, and not as its representatives in the Knesset,” she added.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called the visit “proof that Joint List MKs in general and specifically those from Balad are representatives of terrorist organizations in the Knesset.
Liberman said the Balad MKs’ meeting with the families was “just a reminder to those who need it in the government and law enforcement, that the terrorists must be removed from the Knesset, and preferably from the State of Israel as well, as soon as possible.”
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said it is clear that there are supporters of terrorism in the Knesset.
“We must change election laws so that those who behave immorally and harm the State of Israel cannot sit in the Knesset,” he said.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said the Balad MKs visit was an act of “hatred and subversion” that supports the murder of innocents.
“We must denounce the MKs who met with vile terrorists’ families,” he continued. “The MKs from Balad are harming an entire population group in an unprecedented manner.”
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union) said the Balad lawmakers were “cutting the last strings attaching them to Israeli society, with their own hands. We cannot stand by while MKs visit the families of terrorists who hurt and murdered Israelis.”
MK Anat Berko (Likud) said: “I can’t imagine a possible parallel situation, in which members of Congress visited the family of Muhammad Atta, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.”
“Who do Balad members identify with? With the murderers of our people?” she said.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) tweeted: “Let me get this straight: Israeli MKs meet with terrorists’ families and not the victims’, and we’re still paying their salaries?”
A Balad spokesman responded that “the MKs met with families that asked to release their sons’ bodies for burial. The request was sent to the public security minister.”
However, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) did not express sympathy for the Balad legislators’ cause, tweeting: “The bodies of the terrorists will not be released until the families meet the police’s demands that are meant to ensure the funerals do not turn into demonstrations of incitement and support for terrorism. Instead of promoting that, the Arab MKs did the exact opposite.”
Erdan called on the attorney-general “to examine if the MKs’ visit with the terrorists’ families breaks the law against supporting acts of terrorism and murder.”
Palestinian Media Watch, which first reported the Arab MKs’ visit, is an Israeli research institute studying Palestinian society, focusing on its media and schoolbooks controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas.