(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Lawmakers from the opposition and coalition overwhelmingly voted Wednesday in favor of upholding Balad MK Haneen Zoabi’s suspension from all legislative activities except voting for six months.
Three months after the Knesset Ethics Committee decided to punish Zoabi for incitement, she took the stand to plead for what she felt is her right to free speech, taking advantage of the little-used right to appeal the panel’s decision.
“I am speaking to you as someone who is proud of being a daughter of this land.
There was not and will not be a person who can turn me or my nation into guests or strangers here,” she began.
Zoabi said she knows it is hard for some MKs to hear her speak or even see her walking the halls of the Knesset, but it is hard for her to see Arabs treated as the enemy.
“You are annoyed that I use the words ‘occupation’ and ‘war crimes,’ but the actual occupation and war crimes are what bother me most,” she stated.
At that point, MK Itzik Shmuly (Labor) shouted at Zoabi that she cannot talk in such a way about IDF soldiers and even though there is freedom of speech, she went too far. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein had Shmuly removed from the plenum, when he refused to stop shouting.
“Yes, I crossed the lines of the consensus – a warlike, aggressive, racist, populist, chauvinist, arrogant consensus.
I must cross those lines,” Zoabi added.
The Balad MK pointed out that she is not a Zionist, and that is her right.
“I am a Palestinian, born in this land,” Zoabi declared.
“Anyone who supports the committee’s decision is against justice, equality and freedom of speech and is for political persecution. Whoever stands silent is joining the racists who don’t want Arabs to have representation!” The Knesset Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from all Knesset activities except voting in July, for incitement.
The panel received many complaints about Zoabi, including from Edelstein, in recent weeks regarding her statement that the June kidnapping and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer was not terrorism – something Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided was not criminal incitement – and her support for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Since then, she traveled to Qatar with other Balad MKs and met with the party’s founder, former MK Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel while being investigated for spying for Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.
Zoabi has a long history of controversial activity in and out of the Knesset, including participation in the 2010 Gaza flotilla on the infamous Mavi Marmara, which was stopped by IDF commandos.
In 2011, the Ethics Committee banned Zoabi from the Knesset for two months after she physically attacked an usher who tried to remove her from the plenum for incessantly interrupting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had referred to her in his speech.
Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) referred to Zoabi’s numerous transgressions in his defense of the committee’s ruling.
“What is the role of ethics rules? Does the fact that an MK wasn’t put on trial for a crime make ethics irrelevant?” he asked. “Words like hers cannot go together with the ethics rules of the Knesset, which say we are meant to act for the good of the country.
“She wrote and said things that cannot be for the good of the country, even with the broadest interpretation of what that means... Political freedom includes very, very outrageous statements, but there are some things that cannot be accepted, and that is what we have before us...
There is a difference between legitimate political statements and encouraging and inciting the enemy to attack Israel,” Cohen said.
The Ethics Committee ruling was upheld with 68 in favor and 16 opposed.
“This isn’t ethics, this is politics,” Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said following the vote.