After weeks of delay, the Knesset plenum voted 34 to 16 late on Tuesday night to strip MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) of some of her parliamentary privileges, following her participation in the Gaza flotilla aboard the MV Mavi Marmara.

A series of lawmakers, both Arab and Jew, complained that such a move endangered Israeli democracy, but Zoabi’s opponents argued that it was the freshman MK who constituted a threat to Israel.

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In June, the Knesset’s House Committee voted seven to one to deny Zoabi the right to hold a diplomatic passport; her right to subsidized legal counsel in the event of criminal proceedings against her over her participation in the flotilla, or for any related future offenses; and any extra privileges she could enjoy as a member of Knesset traveling overseas. But while House Committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) planned to bring the vote to the plenum as quickly as possible, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) delayed the vote while awaiting any indications from the attorney-general regarding criminal charges against Zoabi.

In the mean time, senior government officials – and international bodies, including the International Parliamentary Union – pushed Rivlin to delay the plenum approval of the committee decision as long as possible.

But with no answer from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein regarding criminal charges, and with the Knesset’s summer recess slightly more than a week away, Rivlin said on Tuesday that he had no choice but to okay the decision for a plenum debate and vote.

During hours of debate, legislators on both sides of the issue played fast and free with impassioned rhetoric and Shas’s MK Nissim Ze’ev was expelled from the plenum after repeatedly being called to order.

“The debate today helps us to explain to the entire world about the discriminatory and racist attitude toward the Arab public,” complained Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka. “It also helps us reveal that in the Knesset, there are two types of MKs, regular MKs and Arab MKs.

“The Balad faction gives its complete support to MK Zoabi,” Zahalka continued.

“She exercised her right and her obligation according to our party’s platform to oppose and to act against the criminal siege of Gaza. Denying Zoabi’s rights is tyranny of the majority, which is the complete opposite of democracy.”

Although only two Likud cabinet members – Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled – voted in favor of the House Committee’s decision to strip Zoabi of the privileges, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Gila Gamliel took the podium to explain why Zoabi’s actions undermined the democracy of which Zahalka spoke.

“I hear MK Zoabi defining herself as a Palestinian and I ask – if you are a Palestinian, why are you a member of the Israeli Knesset?” she asked Zoabi, who sat in silence with a slight smile across her lips through much of the debate.

“In Gaza and Ramallah, there is also a parliament, so why are you not a member of the parliament that defines itself as Palestinian? You take pride in your democratic and liberal values, but could it be that in a democracy, rights come together with obligations. You did not simply fail to carry out your obligations toward the citizens of the country as an elected representative, but you attacked them,” Gamliel said.

Even before she took the speaker’s podium to defend herself, Zoabi told Channel 2 that “[the Knesset] has no idea of what democracy is. I represent my views, my party’s views, and the views of all the Arab members of the Knesset.”

The Knesset, she complained, “was supposed to defend my right to express my opinions,” and “protect me from racism which targeted me for my views.” Her views, she said, represent a “global consensus” regarding Israel.

Ultimately, Zoabi and the Arab parties did not stand completely alone in their position that Knesset sanctions against the Balad MK constituted a slippery slope toward silencing opposition. In addition to Meretz MKs Haim Oron and Ilan Gilon, Coalition MKs Ghaleb Majadle (Labor) and Eitan Cabel (Labor) joined with Minister of Atomic Intelligence and Energy Dan Meridor (Likud) in voting against the House Committee’s decision. Rivlin and Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud) both were present in the plenum but abstained in the vote.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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