Former MK Said Nafa (Balad) on Thursday was sentenced to one year in prison for meeting with Deputy Secretary-General Talal Naji of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group during an illegal trip to Syria in 2007.
Nafa rejected the court’s decision, accusing the state attorney’s office of a political crusade and using him as a “scapegoat.”
He vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, saying he hoped and believed “no one in the Supreme Court” would “support” what he viewed as a highly problematic legal precedent.
Nafa was sentenced by the Nazareth District Court, which convicted him on June 4. The state had sought additional jail time and Nafa requested none.
His passport was confiscated and the court issued an order blocking him from leaving the country, but denied the state’s request that he post a significant bond to hold off reporting to prison until November 18.
The court said it took a middle path in light of Nafa’s public service contributions and relatively clean record, but that he still needed to be held accountable for failing to explain why he met with the PFLP official and for not taking responsibility for his actions for an extended period.
Nafa earlier had been found innocent of a separate charge of meeting or trying to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, though the court said its ruling on that charge was more about preserving the principle of reasonable doubt than it was an indication the court believed he was innocent.
Nafa’s trial started in January 2012, following an indictment by the Northern District Attorney’s Office in December 2011.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) praised the court’s decision, calling it “an important message sent by the court that Israel no longer will accept subversive activities against the state by its legislators.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said he hoped Nafa’s sentencing would “cause others to think twice before contacting enemies of the state and publicly expressing support, in words and actions, for terrorist organizations.”
The Justice Ministry emphasized that the court had found that Nafa’s meeting was “planned, carried out secretively and could have endangered national security, adding that a significant prison sentence sent an “unambiguous message” that even Knesset members were not above the law.
Meanwhile, MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) was sworn in as an MK Thursday, replacing Carmel Shama who left the Knesset to become Ambassador to the OECD and UNESCO.
Miller was a member of the 17th and 18th Knessets.
Miller used his inaugural speech to compare Balad to the Islamic State and said the party should not be allowed in the Knesset now that two of its former MKs have been suspected and charged with espionage, referring also to MK Haneen Zoabi’s investigation for incitement.
In July 2007, Nafa requested travel permits to Syria for himself and a group of Druse Israelis from the Interior Ministry but was refused, citing security concerns.
By law, Israelis may visit enemy states only if they receive permission from the interior minister.
Susequently, in September 2007, Nafa asked eight Druse clergymen to arrange travel for him to Syria with a group of Druse religious leaders. He received a list of names of those wishing to travel to Syria, which included former Balad chairman and MK Azmi Bishara. The latter fled Israel in 2007 and is wanted for questioning by police on suspicion of aiding and passing information to the enemy, including during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Once in Jordan, Nafa and Bishara allegedly obtained travel permits from the Syrian Embassy, and Nafa visited Syria from September 6-13, 2007. While in Damascus, Nafa met with Nihad Malkhem, who arranged a meeting with Naji of the PFLP.
The indictment had charged, among other things, that, during his alleged meeting with Malkhem, Nafa tried to make contact secretly with Mashaal and that Naji arranged a meeting for the next morning.
Malkhem, who turned state’s witness against Nafa, did not accompany the former MK to the alleged meeting and so could not confirm that it took place or that Nafa seriously pursued such a meeting.
State prosecutors filed charges against Nafa after then-attorney- general Menahem Mazuz announced in December 2009 that Nafa would be indicted for violating both the Penal Code and the Emergency Defense Regulations for visiting Syria without permission and allegedly meeting with Naji and Mashaal.