Amid ongoing delays in the scheduling of a key Knesset session to determine whether to strip certain parliamentary privileges from Haneen Zoabi (Balad), Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) on Thursday penned a letter to the Inter-Parliamentary Union in which he defended the Knesset against allegations of limiting Zoabi’s freedoms.
One of the hottest controversies surrounding the freshman Balad MK – and engendering the criticism of the IPU – was the decision by the House Committee to strip Zoabi of a number of her parliamentary privileges as punishment for her participation in the “aid” flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
In mid-June, the House Committee voted 7-1 to deny Zoabi a diplomatic passport; her right to subsidized legal counsel in the event of criminal proceedings against her over her Libya visit or her participation in the flotilla, or for any related future offenses; and any extra privileges she could enjoy as an MK traveling overseas.
But although House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) said that he planned on bringing the committee’s decision for approval by the plenum immediately following the committee vote, Rivlin has been blocking the key vote that would put the punishments into effect.
Rivlin noted the delay in his response to the IPU complaint, explaining that he was giving the Attorney-General’s Office the opportunity to decide whether to open criminal proceedings against Zoabi.
With the Knesset summer session drawing to a close, Rivlin has decided that he has no choice but to bring the House Committee’s to the plenum for a vote. In his letter to the IPU, Rivlin said that the delay would at least ensure that “the final decision would not be taken under the influence of the strong emotions that erupted on both sides.”
Rivlin wrote the letter as response to a missive that he received from the IPU, which alleged that following her participation in the Gaza flotilla, Zoabi had been the victim of threats, parliamentary penalties and physical violence on the plenum floor while “no ruling party official has so far spoken out with regard to her right to life and security.”
Rivlin responded to the charges made by IPU Sec.-Gen. Anders Johnssen
by telling the head of the international parliamentary organization
that the events surrounding the Gaza flotilla were “a testing-point for
Israeli democracy and I believe it passed the test with flying colors.”
Rivlin noted in the letter that, as Speaker, he acceded to Zoabi’s
request to address the Knesset plenum regarding the events surrounding
the flotilla’s boarding by IDF naval commandos because “despite the
difficulties and searing criticism directed at her by many members, she
had the right, like any Member of Knesset, to fulfill her mission and
try to convince the house of her position.”
Rivlin added that, despite claims to the contrary, Zoabi ultimately did
finish her address, notwithstanding the continued protests by other
Rivlin criticized Johnssen’s “anonymous source” on the subject for
failing to note that he himself had given a number of interviews in the
Israeli press in which he had defended Zoabi’s rights to air her
opinions, even if they were well outside of the national consensus.