(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Balad is set to exercise a little-used right to appeal Knesset Ethics Committee decisions on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to vote against MK Haneen Zoabi’s six-month suspension from most Knesset activities.
The party held a press conference at the Knesset Monday, together with representatives from United Arab List-Ta’al and Hadash, to lament what they said is an uptick in racist behavior. They hired PR woman Emilie Moatti, who handled President Reuven Rivlin’s media during his run for the presidency, to promote their campaign against Zoabi’s suspension.
“There is a recent increase in political persecution, which is a change in the rules of the game. MKs were beaten in protests and the electoral threshold was raised to keep the Arabs out of the Knesset,” Balad leader Jamal Zahalka claimed.
“It’s not that they don’t want Arabs in the Knesset; they just want ‘good Arabs,’” Zoabi said. “We won’t be ‘good Arabs’ for the government, we will be good for our nation and our views.”
The Knesset Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from all Knesset activities except voting in July for incitement. The panel received many complaints about Zoabi, including from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, regarding her statement that the June kidnapping
of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, later found slain, was not terrorism – something Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein decided was not criminal incitement – and her support for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Since then, she traveled to Qatar with other Balad MKs and met the party’s founder, former MK Azmi Bishara, who fled the country while being investigated for spying for Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
The Balad MK has a long history of controversial activity in and out of the Knesset, including participation in the 2010 Gaza flotilla on the Mavi Marmara, which was stopped by IDF commandos.
In 2011, the Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from the Knesset for two months after she physically attacked an usher who tried to remove her from the plenum for incessantly interrupting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had referred to her in his speech.
“I have an enlightened, democratic world view and I am far more democratic than all the members of the Ethics Committee who are trying to teach us right and wrong and how an Arab MK should behave. We are against war crimes and racism. We are for democracy and equality and justice for all,” Zoabi said.
“You can argue with my political views but it is crazy to turn every disagreement and argument into a crime or ethics violation,” she said.
Zahalka called Zoabi’s punishment “unprecedented” and part of an increasing trend of “incitement against Arab MKs that is becoming more poisonous, more racist and more harmful.”
MK Basel Ghattas (Balad) listed things that MKs call Arab MKs when they disagree: traitors, Trojan horses and fifth columns, implying that what Zoabi said is not worse.
“The cornerstone of Arabs’ agreement to participate in elections and be in the Knesset is freedom of expression and our ability to defend our nation. With the racism and hatred in Israeli society and the attacks on our political representation, this cornerstone is shaky,” he said.
Ghattas warned: “We are coming close to the day in which Arabs will decide out of despair from constant persecution that there is no point in playing the political game, that we are just a fig leaf.”
Soon after, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman congratulated Arab MKs “for their decision to disengage from the political system in Israel and I hope the act on their ‘threat’ as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) submitted two bills initiated by Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum, because deputy ministers cannot submit bills, that could eject Zoabi from the Knesset for good.
The first bill would remove from the Knesset anyone who supports acts of terrorism and the second would take away such a person’s citizenship.
According to Kirschenbaum, Zoabi “does not stop at legitimate criticism of a policy, rather she promotes armed, violent conflict against the state. These bills will allow a sane system for democracy to protect itself.
“I am for freedom of opinion, thought and expression, but I am against abusing those values and against incitement that calls to hurt innocent civilians. Unfortunately, MK Haneen Zoabi is not the first in the history of Israel and the Knesset who took advantage of democratic tools and used them to harm Israel’s sovereignty,” Kirschenbaum said.