Balad MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
MK Bassel Ghattas (Joint List) will be suspended for six months from all Knesset activities, but will retain voting rights and continue to draw a salary, the Knesset Ethics Committee determined Monday.
Ghattas is currently under house arrest after he was caught on camera smuggling cell phones, SIM cards and documents to prisoners convicted of terrorism.
Several lawmakers on the Right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the punishment did not go far enough.
"I think that it cannot be that someone who constantly helps and supports terrorist organizations can continue getting a salary from the Knesset," Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting.
Basel Ghattas in court after being arrested for allegedly smuggling phones to prisoners, Dec. 23, 2016
Referring to the MK Impeachment Law, which requires the signatures of 70 MKs to start the process of removing a terror-supporting legislator from office, Netanyahu said that it is the fault of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni that Ghattas is still paid by the taxpayer.
"I said in the past that it is unfortunate, but I'm not surprised. Lapid...is trying to pretend, but [Yesh Atid] is a left-wing party that can take credit for Bassel Ghattas getting a monthly salary from the public," he added.
Yesh Atid said in response that it would support impeaching Ghattas if he is indicted.
Following the Ethics Committee decision, the Joint List MK will retain the right to vote in the plenum, which cannot be revoked as long as he remains a lawmaker.
Ghattas will also continue to earn a salary, because an MK's pay can only be docked by a unanimous vote. MK Youssef Jabareen (Joint List) was the one MK who voted against Ghattas' punishment, saying that the committee should wait for the end of the investigation.
Ghattas called the decision "political revenge," and said he would consider petitioning the High Court of Justice against it.
"The Ethics Committee named itself judges and gave a ruling before the claims against me were clarified, so it is clear to all that this decision was not appropriate," Ghattas stated.
The politicians and law enforcement's treatment of an Arab MK compared to other lawmakers under investigation, including the prime minister, is worse than ever, the MK added.
Ethics Committee member MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) said that Ghattas fatally wounded the Knesset's dignity.
"An MK cannot take advantage of his immunity, trample the law and harm the police and prison authority's work," she stated. "Smuggling equipment and phones is a serious crime that security factors deal with."
Azaria also pointed out that Ghattas also has previous ethics violations under his belt and that the committee increases punishments for those with prior violations.
"This is a moral statement to other MKs: You cannot take advantage of your immunity in this way," she said.
On December 18, Ghattas visited Ketziot Prison, some 70 km. southwest of Beersheba, where he met with Walid Daka, who is serving a life sentence for torturing and murdering 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, and with Bassel Basra, who is serving a 15-year sentence for security offenses. Both men are Fatah members.
Ghattas was caught on camera giving documents to Daka, which he put in his pants, and giving Basra four envelopes, in which prison guards found 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards, two chargers and one headset.
The Knesset House Committee voted to remove Ghatta's immunity from search and arrest, and the MK gave up the privilege before the final vote. He was subsequently remanded, and then released to house arrest.
On Sunday, Daka's brother was indicted for allegedly providing Ghattas with the phones and equipment.