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Court to rule on Knesset revocation of Zoabi's MK rights
By RON FRIEDMAN
03/28/2011
In first hearing, right wing activists attack Zoabi, call her a terrorist and a spy, say she would be in prison in any other country.
 
A ruckus broke out in the lobby of the Supreme Court on Monday when right wing activists Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel hurled insults at Balad MK Haneen Zoabi as she came out of the courtroom where the judges debated the legality of a Knesset decision to strip her of some of her parliamentary rights.

“Go to Gadaffi! In any other country you would be in prison” yelled the activist as Zoabi attempted to make a statement to reporters. “You are a terrorist. Go away, this is a Jewish state. We don’t want you here,” they added.

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The High Court began deliberations on Monday of a case that is likely to be around for a while. Following the Knesset’s House Committee decision to strip Zoabi of privileges accompanying her status as a member of Knesset, including the revocation of her diplomatic passport, in August, because of her participation in the Free Gaza Flotilla last summer, Zoabi petitioned the High Court to order the decision illegal.

On Monday the judges, Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Uzi Vogelman and Salim Joubran indicated that before they could reach a decision on the particular matter, they would have to rule on the technical issue of whether or not the Knesset House Committee even had the authority to revoke the rights. Prior court rulings have not sufficiently answered the questions and the judges hinted that it may require an expanded panel.

Prior to the hearing Zoabi told reporters that the “Right Wing consensus in the Knesset, that’s trying to punish me for my political positions and activities, is sanctioning the continued racist incitement against Arab MKs and the public they represent.”

Zoabi’s lawyers argued that the Knesset was not allowed to revoke the rights of one of it’s members simply because they disagreed with her opinions. They warned of a slippery slope in which the majority revokes the rights of the minority just because they can and requested that the High Court draw a clear line on the actions that a Knesset Committee was allowed to take in punishing an individual MK.

“My colleagues’ position may lead to a situation where the majority judges the minority for their opinions. If their opinion is accepted, MKs will not only be able to say that an opinion is not to their liking, but that it is unworthy of being heard and that it is punishable,” said Dan Geva on behalf of Zoabi. “The Knesset may transform from a place where a range of opinions is expressed to a place where only a single opinion is heard.”

Dan Yakir, who represented the Association for Civil Rights in the case, said that Zoabi’s words had been mischaracterized and that in her participation in the Gaza flotilla, she had made no efforts to assist or encourage terrorist organizations, but rather to conduct a genuine protest on the Gaza blockade and provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

“Not only is there no truth to the claim that she knew there were weapons aboard the ships, contrary to claims she had a hand in the violence against the soldiers, she attempted to mediate between the soldiers and the demonstrators,” said Yakir.

Knesset Legal Counsel Eyal Yinon, said that in its actions against Zoabi, the Knesset tried to strike a balance between the rage which most MKs felt at Zoabi’s actions and the severe act of revoking parliamentary privileges. He said that compared to the initial request, that called on the revocation of the privileges of six Arab MKs for them having Libya last year, the current decision was worthy and balanced.

“I think we are still a great distance away from the Knesset posing a danger to its MKS,” said Yinon. This is a symbolic gesture aimed to discourage similar future actions.”

National Union MK Michael Ben Ari, the person who began the revocation process asked to be added as a respondent to the petition. Following the hearing, Ben Ari called Zoabi a terrorist and a spy and warned that she would use her diplomatic passport to travel around the world and club Israeli soldiers.

In an interview to Army Radio, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin expressed disapproval of the idea that the court alter Knesset decisions but warned MKs from giving the court reason to do so.

“I oppose Zoabi’s actions and think her boarding of the Mavi Marmara requires a police investigation to see whether she didn’t break the law, but I believe that this is not a decision for the Knesset  or the Knesset’s members to make,” said Rivlin.
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