MK Haneen Zoabi [Balad] removed from Knesset after protesting during speech by US Vice President Mike Pence .
(photo credit: YITZHAK HARARI)
Balad voters and activists view the police recommendation to prosecute the party’s three MKs on corruption charges as a bid to silence the grouping because of its rejection of the Jewish character of the state and other oppositional stances.
“This isn’t about corruption; this is about political views,” said Hamoudi Hassan, 55, a Balad voter with a store near the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
”They want to silence them and ban them like they did with the Islamic movement,” he said, referring to the November 2015 proscribing of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement on the grounds that it incited violence.
“If it were a Jewish party, they wouldn’t touch it,” Hassan said. “All parties have these financial issues. But with Balad, they blow it up into a massive thing. When you really want to finish off a person, you can do it on grounds that he stole a pita. I am sure they didn’t do anything serious and deliberately against the law.”
“I take this personally,” he said. “They may think they are harming three MKs, but they are actually harming all the people that voted for them.”
Police said on Tuesday there was enough evidence to prosecute MKs Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Goumha Azbarga for fraud, money laundering, bribery and other offenses revolving around donations and expenditures in the 2013 and 2015 elections. State attorneys will make the decision on whether or not to indict them.
Azbarga told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday night that “the state attorneys will decide and we will deal with it. What we are talking about really is a technical mishap that every party can stumble on. We didn’t take an agora [penny] into our pockets. It’s something that they fine other parties for, but with us it’s political persecution.”
He added that the government wants the Arab political leadership to be “only yes men.”
“They want Arabs to eat, drink and sleep and nothing more. But we have big problems that need to be addressed: Construction, demolition, budgets, education and health. These are not important to them, they just want to find problems [with us] here and there.”
In Nazareth, Hassan said he voted for Balad because “it mentions that 20% of this country are Arabs and they deserve all of their rights. It mentions that Israel is an occupier and that a country cannot be democratic and Jewish. It’s either or. If it’s a Jewish state, then our existence here is conditional. If you are a good boy, you will be left alone. If you are a bad boy, we will remove you. And Balad is not a good boy.”
A salesman in a store selling olive wood crucifixes also thought Balad was being singled out. “All of the country takes money in an illegal way. This is a country for thieves. They are pursuing them because they are Arabs.”
“First they should indict Bibi and Sarah,” said a customer in another store. Its proprietor said he was a neighbor of Zoabi's. “She’s a good person, a good neighbor. If someone needs help, she helps. I don’t think she did anything wrong.”
But there were also those who rejected the idea that the police were employing a double standard.
“It’s not because they are Arabs. They bring corruption cases against Jews also,” said Salim, who works in a spice shop and asked that only his first name be used. “The facts need to be clarified in court and then we will know if it is all lies.”
A jewelry store owner who voted for the Joint List, of which Balad is a component, said that “if they committed a crime of corruption, they should be prosecuted regardless of their status.”
A grocery store owner, 73, said he did not have enough information to know if the police recommendation is correct.
“I have to listen to both sides in order to be an arbitrator. I need more information. I can’t just use my emotions. I can’t justify any action from either side.”
But a senior Balad party activist, Sami Abu Shehadeh, who is a former member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, said on Wednesday that there is no doubt that the police recommendations are intended as a step “to delegitimize Balad’s political participation.”
“Balad is being targeted mainly because of its political agenda, that it wants to change the state from being a Jewish state to a regular liberal democracy,” he said. “I think the Right and the extremeright parties controlling the state view this democratic discourse based on basic human rights and values like justice and equality as a challenge.”