As Arab MKs yelled out that the Knesset had delivered another blow to democracy, MK Said Nafa (Balad) said that he was "not surprised" after the House Committee voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity on Tuesday.
Nafa, who was charged in December with illegally visiting an enemy country, said immediately following the nine-to-two vote that "I did not mean to hurt the country's security. I did not hurt the country's security. I have a long process ahead of me in the court where I will fight for my innocence, and the matter of immunity will be discussed there as well."
In mid-December, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced that Nafa would be indicted for violating both the penal law and the emergency defense regulations by visiting Syria without permission and for allegedly meeting with Talal Naji, deputy secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, during the visit.
Nafa is accused of organizing the September 2007 visit of 300 Israeli-Druse religious leaders to Syria after the Druse religious leaders requested permission for the visit and were turned down. By law, Israelis may only visit enemy countries if they receive permission from the interior minister.
"The decision to try me is strange and hints at discrimination," said Nafah. "All I did was part of my role as a member of Knesset - that is what I said at the time, what I said throughout the investigation, and what I say now."
Nafah reiterated his claims that he served as a member of a delegation that involved senior Druse religious officials, who were visiting religious sites and co-religionists in Syria.
Nafah argued that since 2000, thousands of Israelis have visited Syria against the law, but that only two people were indicted for the trip - a resident of the Galilee and his predecessor as Balad chairman, Azmi Bishara. Bishara was not tried for the trip as a result of the parliamentary immunity afforded to him at the time.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Taal) said that Shas Chairman Eli Yishai had asked that former US president Jimmy Carter help Yishai arrange a meeting with Mashaal, but that Mashaal refused.
Tibi also pointed to a recent incident in which Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov shook hands with his Iranian counterpart at Europe's largest travel and tourism expo.
"What would have happened if the Iranian minister had asked to meet with him in a shady corner? You all would congratulate him for the achievement, because its Meseznikov. Because he's not an Arab."
Tibi was one of the most vocal participants in the almost four-hour-long hearing, in which the attorney-general argued against retaining Nafah's parliamentary immunity.
"In spite of a specific answer from the interior minister in which he was told not to travel to Syria, Nafa and his comrades ignored the decision, traveled to Jordan and with the help of Bishara, who negotiated between them and the Syrian administration, received permission to enter, then stayed in Syria for approximately one week," Mazuz said.
Among the most outspoken speakers against Nafa was Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu), who reiterated her party's election slogan "no loyalty, no citizenship," saying she would sponsor a law against visiting enemy states that would strip violators of their citizenship and mandate their "repatriation" to the states that they visited.