Tensions ran high on Wednesday as lawmakers debated whether MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) should have been suspended from the parliament for six months, with the Left saying the sanction is too harsh and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein defending it.
Zoabi’s punishment, the maximum the Knesset Ethics Committee can give, took effect on Wednesday, the last day of voting before the legislature goes on recess until October, at which point she will not be able to make speeches, submit parliamentary questions or initiate debates in committees or the plenum.
The Ethics Committee received many complaints about Zoabi in recent weeks, including one from Edelstein, regarding her statement that the June 12 kidnapping of teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, later found slain, was not terrorism – something Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein decided was not criminal incitement – her support for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel during Operation Protective Edge in demonstrations, television appearances and articles in Arabic, as well as a recent altercation between her and a police officer.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said the Ethics Committee was behaving outrageously.
“Should a committee that is supposed to guard the rights of the minority be allowed to suspend someone for half a year? Is that not draconian? Are you crazy? That is silencing the opposition,” she complained.
Gal-On accused Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu of systematically delegitimizing Israeli Arabs, without consequences.
“The coalition is using the tyranny of the majority to pass laws that, on any other day [not in wartime], would raise a public discourse,” she said.
Edelstein responded that “people who believe in coexistence have become a minority in this House.
“One of my predecessors in this job, Prof. Shevah Weiss, can tell you all that once there was an MK here that, whenever he would get up to speak, all of the other MKs would walk out and he would be alone,” Edelstein said in reference to former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee from running in the 1988 and 1992 Knesset elections for having a racist ideology and banned by the cabinet in 1994 under 1948 anti-terrorism laws.
“Back then, right-wing people didn’t make excuses for why Kahane is okay, but now, it looks like something changed,” the Knesset speaker said.
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) recounted that when Zoabi participated in the 2010 Gaza protest flotilla on the Mavi Marmara, which was stopped by Israel Navy commandos, he defended her freedom of expression.
“This time, I was asked if I would fight for her again, and I said to myself that at this time, it is best to stay silent,” Cabel explained. “Suddenly I realized we are all pawns in Zoabi’s game. We defend democracy so much we don’t realize we’re playing into her hands. Therefore, it’s smarter to stay silent.”
MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) accused the Left of hypocrisy and being willing to silence people of the Right.
“Every opinion should be heard, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t limits,” he said.
“When Kahane was thrown out of the Knesset the High Court approved it, but when it happens again and again with MK Zoabi, the court brings her back.”
In 2012, the Central Elections Committee voted to ban Zoabi’s party, Balad, from running in the 2013 election, but the Supreme Court overruled the decision.
Deputy Minister for Liaison with the Knesset Ofir Akunis, the Likud’s representative to the committee at the time, said Zoabi, by sailing toward Gaza on the Marmara, broke the law barring someone who takes part in or supports armed combat against Israel from running for Knesset.
“I said Zoabi should be banned because of her actions, not her thoughts...
I respected the courts’ decision even though I thought it was a mistake, and these days prove how big the mistake was... No parliament in the world would accept such expressions and behavior in a time of war,” Akunis said.