(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An expanded five-justice panel of the High Court of Justice on Tuesday reprimanded Balad MK Haneen Zoabi for statements she made against the state, while it heard her petition to block the Knesset from banning her from parliamentary activity other than voting for six months.
Despite the harsh statements from the court, there is a strong chance that the justices will dismiss the petition as moot, now that the Knesset has dissolved itself.
Just before the hearing, MK Danny Danon (Likud) slammed Zoabi’s statements and called for right-wing activists to come to the court to protest against her.
Zoabi filed the petition on October 7, calling the ban a violation of her freedom of speech.
At the end of July, Zoabi was banned following a Knesset Ethics Committee ruling on complaints of incitement by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and other lawmakers. The ban was confirmed by the full Knesset at the end of October.
Zoabi’s punishment, the maximum the committee can give, means that she is banned from making speeches, submitting parliamentary questions, or initiating debates in committees or the plenum.
The committee received many complaints about Zoabi regarding her statement that the June kidnapping and murder of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gil-Ad Shaer was not terrorism and her implied support for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that these statements did not constitute criminal incitement.
But Hebrew University Prof. Barak Medina said that the dissolution of the Knesset ended the ban on Zoabi and that in any new Knesset there would be no ban without a new vote against her.
Medina noted that the High Court had taken its time to hear the case, saying this was a signal that it prefers not to intervene.
Some of the High Court’s questions also noted that part of Zoabi’s ban was during an extended recess, suggesting the justices might want to avoid ruling on the issue by emphasizing that the ban was short and that it is no longer in effect.
Accordingly, Medina said there is a good chance that the court would decline to rule for or against the constitutionality of the ban, using its not being in effect to declare the issue irrelevant.
But in Tuesday’s hearing, the justices took turns coming up with metaphors to condemn Zoabi, saying her statements were “without precedent” and that her claim to be nonviolent but regard murdering kidnappers as non-terrorists was like “dirty snow.”
In her petition, Zoabi cited Weinstein’s decision that her conduct had not been criminal as proof that it was within the boundaries of her freedom of speech as a Knesset member.
She said she had explained her statement of not wanting to use the phraseology of “terrorists,” even though she opposes violence against civilians, because she believes that terminology slants the overall debate too far in favor of Israel.
Zoabi slammed the committee for discrimination since, she said it had not sanctioned Knesset members such as Yaakov Katz, Michael Ben-Ari, Eli Aflalo, Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Arieh Eldad for what she called statements of incitement, such as Eldad allegedly saying about former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert that whoever withdraws from sovereign land “has a judgment of death.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this story.