Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Balad Party MK Basel Ghattas has dismissed the police investigation over his alleged smuggling of cellphones to Fatah prisoners held in Ketziot Prison as being “all political persecution.”
Balad leaders used the same phrase in September when police arrested dozens of party members as part of a campaign financing probe. The fact that many of the arrests were carried out between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., and questions as to why the matter wasn’t simply handled through the state comptroller, contributed to sympathy for Balad among the Arab public.
But this time the reaction is different. Except for some die-hards in Balad who see Ghattas as having carried out a patriotic duty by trying to help prisoners, the MK is isolated.
Some accuse him of giving ammunition to those on the Right who are always looking for ways to delegitimize the Arab Knesset members and public. And many see him as irresponsible and don’t go along with what – if the allegations are proven – amounts to a clear violation of the principle that Arab political activity should take place within the framework of the law.
“I’ve talked to many people and the majority believe this is not useful,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the International Center for Consultations in Haifa. “People say that even if the prisoners deserve some help, this is not the way to do it.”
Asked by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday if the investigation against Ghattas amounted to political persecution, Balad Party Secretary-General Mtanes Shehadeh said: “We haven’t used that concept until now. We are waiting until we know more details.”
And Ghattas has not received support from Joint List leader Ayman Odeh. On the contrary, Odeh said in a statement Tuesday that the allegations against Ghattas were “very grave” and needed to be investigated, while at the same time he criticized right-wing MKs for conducting a “field trial” of Ghattas.
A political activist who is following the Ghattas scandal and asked not to be identified, voiced anger at the Balad MK. “To say that what Basel did was wrong is mild. What he did is awful. There is no reason to incite against the entire Arab population.
But in a way, Ghattas has given [right-wingers] leverage to do exactly that. They want to say the Arab MKs are terrorists and he has given them a way of saying this.
“This is much more problematic than the incitement against us over the fires,” the activist added, referring to allegations that Arab arsonists were responsible for last month’s wave of fires.
“With the fires we could say, it’s our homes as well, and there is no real knowledge of our starting fires. But now, something real has happened.
“People think this was a stupid move but I think it’s much deeper than that,” he continued. “Saying it’s stupid is giving him an easy way out. Basel is not stupid. It wasn’t a stupid mistake. It was a very dangerous and harmful mistake, and you need to take responsibility.”
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz used the investigation against Ghattas to call for the exclusion of Balad MKs from the Knesset. He posted a picture on Facebook of Islamic State (Daesh) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and masked gunmen over pictures of Balad MKs Haneen Zoabi and Ghattas and a picture of Azmi Bishara, the Balad founder.
“Daesh there, Balad here,” Katz wrote. Bishara fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for allegedly passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War a year earlier.
Katz, who is also intelligence minister, wrote on Facebook: “The suspicions against Ghattas, following up the actions of Bishara and Zoabi, show how wrong the Supreme Court was when it did not support my legislation to nullify the candidacy of those who support terror. Balad has no place in the Knesset of Israel.”
Calls to ban Balad, and accusations and insinuations about the loyalty of Arab citizens, promise to be an ongoing theme of Israeli political discourse as Ghattas is arrested, and will only intensify if he is placed on trial.
Wadia Awawdy, a journalist for Taiba-based Hala TV, said Ghattas’s alleged actions are out of step with Arab public opinion: “The majority of people believe you need to struggle in the frame of the law and that it is not wise to use the methods of Basel Ghattas. So Balad needs to change its political behavior in order to stay popular in the Arab street here. It would be a mistake by Balad to try and protect Ghattas. They need to stress that the struggle against the occupation and to achieve equality as citizens is just by legal means.”