The Knesset House Committee voted Tuesday to submit a complaint against MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) for his participation in a flotilla headed to Gaza, after two hours of heated debate peppered with shouting.
“Freedom of expression is the foundation on which activity in this house is built. Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of it to undermine the state and try to embarrass it, time after time, before the whole world and cause crises, while taking advantage of... parliamentary immunity,” House Committee chairman David Bitan (Likud) said, adding that Ghattas did not get the necessary approval from the Knesset Ethics Committee for his trip abroad or report the source of its funding as required.
Ghattas plans to take part in the third Gaza flotilla aboard the Marianne av Göteborg, which is on its way to Gaza and is scheduled to arrive by the end of the month.
Arab MK joining third Gaza-bound flotilla talks to Jpost
Bitan requested that the Ethics Committee revoke Ghattas’s immunity, in light of the precedent of MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List), whose immunity was removed after she took part in the 2010 Gaza flotilla on the Mavi Marmara ship, which IDF commandos boarded, killing nine armed attackers. He also asked that the Ethics Committee sanction Ghattas to the full extent of its power, which would mean a suspension from participation in all Knesset activities except for voting. His motion passed 10-2.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), who made aliya from Argentina, said he knows what it is like to grow up in a dictatorship, he even went to prison for speaking his mind, and he opined that Ghattas should not be punished for participating in the flotilla unless it gets violent.
However, he added, the Ethics Committee should look into the funding of the trip.
MK Ahmad Tibi (UAL-Ta’al/ Joint List) called for the coalition “to take into consideration that this is a political, oppositional act. This is a nonviolent act, and we should not use violence against them. It’s not illegal, and the courts said so [in Zoabi’s case], and until a law is passed saying so, it’s not forbidden.”
Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka, who, like Ghattas, is from the Balad Party, said the flotilla is “political and humanitarian and meant to pressure the international community to do something to remove the blockade of Gaza. This is a moral flotilla.”
MK Yinon Magal (Bayit Yehudi) pointed out that COGAT allows trucks full of supplies into Gaza every day.
“If this is a humanitarian flotilla, give the state the supplies and let it bring them in [to Gaza]. If you care so much about your brothers, then where is your flotilla to Syria? You’re going on a flotilla to Gaza, where people shoot missiles at Israel. Those are undemocratic acts. You are not playing a fair game,” he stated.
“MKs from the right cannot tell us what to do and what the limits of our parliamentary activity are,” MK Masud Gnaim (Joint List) said. “I’m Arab and Palestinian. I was elected by Arabs and Palestinians and we oppose the blockade of Gaza.”
“This is an example of political psychology,” Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh theorized. “If MK Ghattas were protesting in Nazareth or Tel Aviv against the blockade of Gaza, would that be acceptable? Why is it allowed on land and not at sea? It’s all because of that flotilla five years ago. He hasn’t boarded the flotilla yet, and even if he does, let’s see what happens.”
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) said “MKs who have trouble obeying the law should return their [Israeli] ID cards and move to the Palestinian Authority. [The flotilla] goes against the State of Israel. It is an anti-Semitic act.
If you don’t like it here, you are welcome to leave.”
Also Tuesday, the Ethics Committee held its first meeting of the 20th Knesset, with Ghattas’s flotilla plans and allegations against Hazan of pimping and drug-taking abroad and sexual harassment in Israel on its docket.
Ethics Committee meetings take place behind closed doors and their agenda is not released in advance, but Tuesday’s inaugural meeting was partially open.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that the committee is always important, but now it is especially so.
“There was an accumulation of events that reached a watershed moment in the deterioration of values that we are sensing, while we aim to defend the honor of the legislature,” he said. “You should act not as an investigator or a tribunal but a body of MKs who are supposed to decide what is ethical and what is not, what harms the Knesset’s dignity and what does not.”
Edelstein warned the MKs that sometimes their work will be unpleasant, and wished that they will make the right decisions.
“Usually I say I wish a new committee will have extensive and fruitful activity. Here, I wish the opposite. You should have sporadic meetings. We will all be happy if this committee lacks work,” the speaker quipped.
Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) pointed out that he previously held the position during the 2010 flotilla.
“This committee is very important to the Knesset’s image. The discussions here are not like in any other committee.
They are almost always about our friends and colleagues. The work is not simple,” he said.