Balad should no longer be allowed in the Knesset and its MKs should be investigated for visiting Hamas’s sponsor country Qatar, right-wing MKs said Monday.
“Balad, the party founded by [former MK] Azmi Bishara, who was charged with espionage and fled Israel, clearly proves again to those who doubted it that they do not have a place in the Knesset,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said. “While Israel is still in a serious campaign against Hamas terrorists, Balad MKs went to Qatar and showed support for [Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal and his friends.”
Balad’s three MKs, Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas visited Qatar last week, where they met with Bishara, who resigned from the Knesset and fled Israel in 2007, as he was under investigation for giving information to Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and appeared on Al Jazeera.
Liberman said Yisrael Beytenu would continue doing whatever it could to ensure “the fifth column representing terrorist organizations in the Knesset will find its place far from our house of representatives and behind bars.”
In addition, the Foreign Minister called for Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to examine several aspects of the MKs’ trip, including; its funding; their time in luxury hotels; whether they brought cash to Bishara or others; whether the trip itself was legal and if they broke any national security laws concerning contact with a foreign agent; and if they lobbied Qatar to give money to Abnaa el-Balad, an organization that seeks to abolish Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
On Monday, Balad released a statement saying that the trip was legitimate political activity and they went to appear in the media – although they have appeared on Qatari channel Al Jazeera several times from Israel in recent weeks – and that there was nothing illegal about their travels.
Zahalka said that he did not see Qatar or its residents as enemies, rather as brothers, and it was natural for him to be in contact with them.
“Our political activity is not meant to curry favor with the likes of Liberman, [Transportation Minister Yisrael] Katz, [Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri] Regev… and other fascists and warmongers.
Rather, it is meant to represent the public that elected us and the principles of equality, freedom and peace,” he stated.
As for meeting with Bishara, Zahalka said that Balad MKs “met with him dozens of times in the past, as well as this time. Bishara is our friend and naturally we meet with him and talk to him.”
Contrary to the Balad spokesman, who specifically said on Sunday that the MKs paid for their own trip, Zahalka would not publicly state where the funding for the travels came from, saying only that the party had nothing to hide about its funding and would report it to the Knesset Ethics Committee.
Similarly, Ghattas told the Knesset Channel’s Yaron Avraham: “I’m not sure about the details. It could be that there are two sources of funding for this trip. Everything will be declared and clarified to the Ethics Committee.”
According to Knesset procedure, MKs have to report funding for their trips abroad and receive authorization from the Ethics Committee before they travel, not after.
Zahalka said the report on funding would be submitted late “for technical reasons.”
Earlier Monday, in an interview with Balad’s website, Zahalka said “Israeli incitement against Balad is one of the signs of an imbalance that comes from failing to reach the goals of its criminal war on Gaza.”
Zahalka called the responses to his visit to Qatar “hysterical, racist and fascist” and said he rejected any attempt to “determine the meaning of our relations with our Arab brothers.”
The Balad leader said he was proud of Qatar for standing with the Palestinians in Gaza.
As for Bishara, Zahalka said “he continues to anger them [the Israelis] and bring up hostility and hatred, proving that Bishara did his job as a Palestinian nationalist and doing what is good for his nation and angers its enemies.”
In response to the Balad MKs’ trip, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said “only in Israel can you have legislators and terrorists in the same party.”
Katz said that he amended the law to make it illegal for people who support terrorism to run for the Knesset and he had Bishara and Balad banned from running via the Central Election Committee, a vote the Supreme Court overturned.
“I am now preparing a new petition against Zoabi and Balad and I hope the Supreme Court won’t intervene this time,” he added.
Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (the Likud) wrote a letter to Weinstein asking that he investigate the MKs’ visit to Qatar and ban their party.
“It is the right thing to do to investigate MKs Zahalka, Zoabi and Ghattas who traveled to the land of terrorism, especially when we know that all of the terrorism is funded by Qatar’s leaders and that the heads of Hamas live in Qatar, where they are defended,” Regev wrote.
“There is legal precedent for this in Israel. We cannot forget former MK Bishara, who was a traitor to the state and lived in Qatar, the shelter for terrorists,” Regev added.
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) said he planned to complain to the Knesset Ethics Committee about the Balad MKs, to examine who paid for their Qatar trip.
“Three Balad MKs visiting the terrorism sponsor Qatar, which funds Hamas, and their meeting with the fugitive spy Azmi Bishara, is further proof of their activity that is hostile to the State of Israel, which they are supposed to represent,” Miller said.
Miller added: “If Zahalka and his partners are looking to meet with their spiritual leader Azmi Bishara, they should stay with him in Qatar and save us the theater of the absurd that they run in Israel.”
MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) also petitioned the Ethics Committee to ask who funded the trip and whether they received the necessary authorization for an MK to travel abroad. When MKs ask for the authorization, they have to declare who is paying and the purpose of travel.
“If they did not ask for authorization and chose to ignore Knesset regulations and trample the rules of Israel democracy,” Kariv wrote, “this committee must meet immediately to discuss the matter and whether to remove their [parliamentary] immunity and use all sanctions possible against the MKs.”
MK Danny Danon (the Likud) wrote on Facebook: “Zahalka, Zoabi and Bishara met in Qatar. That’s not the beginning of a joke. That really happened!” Danon added that he assumed that, since Qatar sponsors Hamas, “the three didn’t talk about strengthening the Zionist enterprise.”
The Likud MK vowed to continue trying to ban “extensions of Hamas and Hezbollah” from the Knesset.
Zoabi is under investigation for insulting a public servant following an incident in July in which, according to the Attorney-General’s Office, Zoabi called Israeli- Arab police officers traitors, implied threats against them and told a protesting crowd to spit in their faces.
Last month, the Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from all parliamentary activity except voting for six months following comments she made supporting Hamas attacks on Israel.
Yasser Okbi contributed to this report.
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