MK HANEEN ZOABI (right) sits with MK Jamal Zahalka at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in May 2012..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Balad has been involved in a long line of brushes with the law and incidents that outraged other MKs over its years in the Knesset.
The party, whose name is an acronym for “National Democratic Alliance,” was founded in 1995 by Azmi Bishara, who entered the Knesset alone after running on a joint ticket with MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) in 1999.
It wasn’t long before Bishara courted controversy.
In 2001, he visited Syria, where he eulogized the recently deceased Syrian president Hafez Assad, and expressed solidarity with Syria and Hezbollah against Israel.
The following year, the Knesset voted to remove Bishara’s immunity. He was indicted for supporting terrorist organizations, siding with Israel’s enemies and helping Israelis enter Syria without Interior Ministry approval. However, the High Court of Justice ruled that Bishara’s speeches were protected by his parliamentary immunity.
By 2003, the first of many attempts to ban Balad from running for the Knesset soon followed. But the Supreme Court overturned the Central Elections Committee vote, with then-justice Michael Cheshin saying “Israel’s democracy is strong and can tolerate irregular cases.” A similar chain of events has reoccurred since then before every election.
In 2006, after the Second Lebanon War, Bishara, MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) and then-MK Wasil Taha visited Syria and Lebanon. Police began investigating their activities. Bishara was charged with treason and with receiving money from a foreign agent, among other charges, and fled the country. He resigned from the Knesset at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo in 2007 and has since settled in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The Knesset then passed a law revoking MKs’ pensions if they have evaded investigation or trial for serious offenses.
In 2009, Haneen Zoabi of Balad became the first female MK from an Arab party – there had already been female Arab MKs in non-Arab parties – and soon was known as the party’s firebrand.
Zoabi took part in the Gaza flotilla in 2010 and was aboard the MV Mavi Marmara on which armed anti-Israel activists clashed with IDF soldiers. She gave a speech in the Knesset about the flotilla the next day as then-MK Anastasia Michaeli tried to rush the stage and prevent her from speaking.
The Knesset stripped Zoabi of her immunity, but then-Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin blocked the move. Zoabi was stripped of other parliamentary privileges instead, including her diplomatic passport and right to visit countries with which Israel did not have diplomatic relations.
In 2014, Zoabi gave an interview in which she said that those who kidnapped three Israeli teenagers are not terrorists. Soon after, during Operation Protective Edge, she wrote an editorial on a Hamas website calling for Palestinians to “besiege” Israel. She was investigated for incitement and the Knesset suspended her from all parliamentary activities except voting for six months. The Supreme Court rejected Zoabi’s appeal to overturn the decision.
Zoabi, Zahalka and MK Basel Ghattas visited Bishara in Doha in 2014, courtesy of Bishara’s research institute, which reportedly is funded by the Qatari royal family, a major sponsor of Hamas.
Ghattas, now part of the Joint List bloc of parties, followed in Zoabi’s footsteps in 2015 and took part in a Gaza flotilla. He was suspended from the Knesset for three months. Ghattas again sparked outrage this summer for calling to boycott Israel at several venues abroad, something that Zoabi and Zahalka have done, as well.
At the beginning of 2016, Balad’s three MKs – Zahalka, Zoabi and Ghattas – met with the families of 10 terrorists, some of whom had recently killed Israelis. The terrorists’ bodies were being held by the police, because the families refused to meet the government’s conditions for not holding mass funerals glorifying violence against Israelis.
The MKs stood in a moment of silence in memory of “Palestinian martyrs,” and the Balad Facebook page referred to the father of a terrorist who killed three Israelis as the father of a “martyr.”
The MKs were suspended from all Knesset activities, except voting for either three or six months, depending on prior offenses.
The incident inspired the “MK Expulsion Law,” which allows the Knesset, with a threefourths vote, to remove a lawmaker from office for incitement to violence or racism; support for armed conflict or terrorism against Israel; or negating Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Also this year, Zoabi called IDF soldiers “murderers,” setting off a near-riot in the Knesset, with MKs rushing the podium on which she stood.