MKs accused Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Wednesday of not being tough enough on Balad MK Haneen Zoabi for saying the kidnappers of three yeshiva students last weekend are not terrorists. Edelstein was critical of Zoabi but stopped short of recommending removing her parliamentary immunity or passing laws that could prevent her reelection – despite demands from dozens of MKs.
“I summarily reject Zoabi’s harmful statement and her foolish attempts to justify war crimes and terrorist organizations,” Edelstein said Tuesday. “Her words are incitement that do not have a place in the Israeli political discourse, and I hope those who vote for Zoabi and her friends, representatives of the Arab population in Israel, will renounce her and criticize her provocative support for cruel terror.”
Edelstein accused Zoabi of embarrassing the Knesset during a session of the parliament on Wednesday. But MKs said his criticism did not go far enough and that they expected Edelstein to take action.
They accused him of following in the footsteps of President- elect Reuven Rivlin, who used his time as Knesset speaker to build ties with Arab MKs – who helped him get elected.
Rivlin had angered Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman when he was Knesset speaker by preventing the passage of bills that would have revoked the pension of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who helped Hezbollah against Israel in the Second Lebanon War.
Rivlin further upset Liberman by making his first visit as Knesset speaker to the Arab city of Umm el-Fahm and not to a Druse village where people serve in the army.
“Based on his behavior with Zoabi, he won’t get Liberman’s vote if he runs for president,” a Yisrael Beytenu MK said, referring to the next presidential election in 2021.
A Likud MK said that Edelstein was wrong to put democracy ahead of the good of the state. But officials in the Knesset said Edelstein was limited in what he could do to Zoabi.
They said he could not expel her from the Knesset, remover her immunity, or take away her benefits – even if he wanted to. They said all Edelstein could do was interrupt her next time she spoke in the Knesset plenum. Edelstein’s spokesman declined to respond to the criticism.