Balad MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein informed MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) on Tuesday that he would likely indict her for telling a crowd of protesters that Israeli-Arabs who work for government security forces “should be scared of us.”
Weinstein invited Zoabi to a pre-indictment hearing to enable her to dispute the charges and convince him to change his mind. However, it is rare for the state to back off of an indictment once there has been a public announcement.
The proposed charges for incitement and disgracing a public servant relate to comments she made at a protest during a July 6 hearing at a Nazareth court. A statement said Zoabi had called Israeli-Arab police officers “traitors,” implied threats against them and told a protesting crowd to spit in their faces.
On Tuesday, Balad said the party’s lawyer, Hassan Jabarin, had told Weinstein he would be willing to hold an urgent hearing on the matter in order to convince him not to indict Zoabi and that there was no legal basis for putting her on trial.
“The State Attorney’s Office does not usually put elected officials on trial for a spontaneous expression made in the heat of the moment in public political activity,” Jabarin said. “Therefore, if charges are pressed, the state will have to explain to the court why Zoabi is discriminated against, since in dozens of similar cases, including worse ones, not only was there no indictment, there was no investigation.”
In August, Weinstein told Zoabi that members of Knesset had no legal immunity from undergoing police questioning.
However, they do have a presumption of immunity from indictment, and the attorney- general said then that if the prosecution wished to indict Zoabi, he would need to decide whether to remove that immunity.
It appears he is now ready to do so.
He noted at the time that she also had immunity from arrest, certain searches and wire-tapping.
In July, Weinstein closed a different investigation against Zoabi without charging her with incitement for giving several media interviews seemingly supporting the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in mid- June.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the decision to indict Zoabi.
“Zoabi does not need to be put on trial for a specific incident of insulting a public worker, but for constantly undermining the State of Israel,” he said Tuesday.
“I hope that this time the High Court does not let Zoabi run for the Knesset again and proves that whoever acts against the State of Israel and supports its enemies cannot be a member of its parliament.”
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who has been working in recent weeks to get enough signatures for the Central Election Committee to ban Zoabi from running, said she belonged behind bars.
“[Weinstein] cannot let her avoid punishment for her deeds and must bring her to justice,” he said. “Zoabi crossed the limits of democracy and freedom of speech long ago.”
Fellow Likud MK Miri Regev said the indictment “sends a clear message to Arab and Jewish MKs that no one is above the law.”
She added that “the time has come for Zoabi’s parliamentary immunity to be removed and for her to be dismissed from the Knesset.”
Labor MK Eitan Cabel also praised the decision, saying Zoabi’s corrupt behavior harmed the Israeli-Arab community, “the majority of whom are loyal citizens who aspire to integrate into Israeli society.”