Law enforcement must make the limits of public discourse clear, coalition MKs said in a Knesset Interior Committee meeting on incitement Monday.
“I am against incitement on the Right and on the Left,” said committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud). “Such talk has no place in a democratic country, certainly not in wartime. There is no problem with demonstrations... but the problem is statements that border on incitement.”
Turning to representatives of the Attorney-General’s Office, Regev said: “You need to tell citizens what is allowed and what is prohibited. Democracy cannot turn into anarchy.”
Hatnua MK David Tsur said: “This committee should make sure the police are more assertive in preventing this crime and are sensitive to the line between freedom of speech and incitement.”
The meeting focused mostly on three topics: the pending investigation of Balad MK Haneen Zoabi for incitement; threats faced by her relatives Sarah and Muhammad Zoabi who identify as Zionists; and violence against Christian Israelis who advocate IDF service.
Regev addressed the recent order by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for police to investigate the Balad MK for incitement, citing a Channel 2 report that Zoabi refused to be questioned because the timing was inconvenient for her.
“What does she mean, inconvenient? Does she need to be brought in a limo decorated with flowers?” Regev quipped.
Head of Police Investigations Cmdr. Manny Yitzhaki denied the TV report and said Zoabi will be invited to testify “at the time that suits [police] needs,” which will be coordinated with her, and that if she refuses, “we will take care of it.”
“There is law and order and there is a Knesset speaker,” Yitzhaki said.
Regev took issue with Zoabi skipping the Interior Committee meeting, which took place on the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr.
“Maybe she isn’t here because she has another Turkish flotilla to take part in,” Regev said, referencing Zoabi’s participation in the 2010 Gaza flotilla.
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who was not in the meeting, called on police to arrest Zoabi so she does not flee the country like former Balad leader Azmi Bishara did in 2007 when he was being investigated for ties with an enemy country.
Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri said his office received several complaints about Zoabi in recent weeks after she said the murder of three teenage boys by Hamas terrorists is not terrorism, used harsh language against policemen in court in Nazareth and wrote an article justifying Hamas shooting rockets at Israel.
“They are all under consideration and being taken seriously,” Nizri said. Still, he added that “incitement” is not a legal term and is subjective and pointed out that there have been complaints against Regev for incitement, a possible reference to her calling African migrants “a cancer” in 2012.
“We have investigations against people on the Left and on the Right,” Nizri stated.
“Even in wartime, maybe even more so in wartime, we need freedom of speech and demonstration.”
In response, Regev asked: “Why can’t you send a clear message that MKs can’t act against the State of Israel? I’m happy an investigation against Zoabi was opened, and I hope to see her in another state institution.”
MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata (Yesh Atid) agreed that incitement is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum.
“I want action against those who carry signs that say ‘death to Arabs’ and against those who carry signs that say ‘IDF soldiers are murderers’ and it’s not happening!” she lamented.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg asked why politicians on the Right are not being investigated like Zoabi. She referenced both Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s call for people to boycott businesses of Israeli Arabs who support Hamas and Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked’s Facebook post of an article from 2002, which she did not write, that said Israel is at war with the Palestinians, including mothers who encourage their sons to be suicide bombers.
“These words had clear and immediate ramifications,” Zandberg said. “I saw on Facebook calls to beat up demonstrators.
We are at a point in which a rally for peace means there will be violence at its end. What is being done to defend Israeli citizens from pogroms?” MK Dov Henin (Hadash) also complained of violence at rallies for peace, saying police did not provide sufficient security.
“There are bullies who don’t just want to express their opinion, they want to beat people up,” he stated.
Also at the meeting was Sara Zoabi, whose teenage son, Muhammad Zoabi, fled to the US when faced with death threats after expressing his ardent Zionism online several weeks ago. Sara and Muhammad Zoabi are distant relatives of the Balad MK.
“I educated my son to love people and fight for justice,” said Sara Zoabi. “I am proud of my son. I oppose violence on both sides and as a mother I think all children should be protected.”
Sara described the many threats she received and said her landlord, who is Arab, wants to throw her out of her home because of her son’s views. MKs in the meeting promised to help her. Still, Sara declared her support for Israel, saying “Jews suffered enough, they were killed just for being Jews,” which is why they deserve their own state.
“The Arab world is cruel,” Sara said. “Israel is better for Arabs than many other countries.
Arabs under Arab rule don’t live better than [Israeli Arabs] do. If you don’t like it here, try Syria or ISIS. Here I can say what I want and I’m protected. From all my heart, I hope our country is defended.”
Greek Orthodox priest Father Gabriel Nadaf also spoke about threats and incitement he faced as leader of a forum encouraging Christian Arabs to serve in the IDF.
“The police provides me with protection, but I don’t know the status of incitement cases,” said Nadaf. “We hear derogatory terms shouted at us on the street. My son is joining a combat unit and people in our neighborhood try to challenge him to fights. I worry, but there is nothing we can do.”
Nadaf said he calls for Christians to enlist in the IDF to combat terrorism.
“We are fighting for our home,” he added. The Greek Orthodox priest also pointed out that his co-religionists support Israel “in light of the massacre of Christians across the Middle East and the world’s silence about the ethnic cleansing.”