Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night asked Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to examine legal actions that can be taken against the three Joint List MKs who met with the families of terrorists.
In addition, Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein plan to personally submit complaints to the Knesset Ethics Committee about the meeting.
On Tuesday, MKs from Balad, one of the parties that make up the mostly Arab Joint List faction, met with the families of 10 terrorists whose bodies have not been released by authorities, including the father of Baha Alian, who, together with an accomplice, killed three people in a shooting and stabbing attack on a bus in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in October. Police shot and killed Alian at the site of the attack.
The Balad Facebook page, brought to light by Palestinian Media Watch, called the terrorists shaheeds (martyrs) and featured a video of Alian’s father calling the meeting “warm and productive.”
Ma’an, a Palestinian news agency, said the MKs took part in a moment of silence for the terrorists.
The Joint List called the visit by Balad MKs with the terrorists’ families a humanitarian one, saying on Friday that Netanyahu was the one at fault for criticizing them.
“The meeting of MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas with families in eastern Jerusalem who want their sons’ bodies in order to bury them was meant to promote a humanitarian issue of the first rate.
“The three MKs heard the families and their positions on the conditions the police set, and passed the information on to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who said a final decision had not yet been made. It is important to emphasize that burying the dead is a human and religious commandment in the three religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity; therefore, we call to free the bodies immediately,” the faction’s statement reads.
Jewish Israeli politicians from Bayit Yehudi to Meretz denounced Balad for taking part in the meeting, including Netanyahu, who said on Thursday: “MKs who go to comfort families of terrorists who murder Israelis do not deserve to be members of the Israeli Knesset.”
The Joint List said it “rejects and condemns the incitement led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against [the Balad MKs] about their actions to return the bodies, which is totally legitimate without any connection to the circumstances of the death.”
“Stop the incitement,” the faction’s statement said. “The issue has been discussed by political and security officials...
therefore, it is unclear why there has been such a fuss about the actions to return the bodies that have not yet been buried. The prime minister and some ministers and MKs took advantage of the issue to incite and called for punishment, even though no laws or ethics rules were broken.”
Meanwhile, Edelstein spoke to Micah Lakin – the son of Richard Lakin, who was murdered by Alian – who had called in the press for the Knesset Speaker to remove the Balad MKs’ immunity.
Edelstein explained that he does not have the authority to do so, but suggested that Lakin submit a complaint to the Ethics Committee and called on any other disturbed citizens to do so, as well. Instructions on petitioning the committee can be found on the Knesset website.
“The Knesset is the people’s House. It listens to and works for the people and, therefore, it is the right of anyone who was hurt to ask it to conduct an inquiry,” Edelstein said.
Though Edelstein does not have the authority to punish the Balad MKs, if the Ethics Committee determines the visit was a violation, it can sanction them with suspensions of up to six months from all Knesset activities but voting – a punishment Zoabi received in the past for comments sympathizing with Hamas during Operation Protective Edge – or a new punishment that has yet to be used, docking their salaries. In addition, if the attorney-general finds their actions to be criminal, he may ask the Knesset House Committee to vote to remove their immunity, so they can be put on trial.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid wrote a letter to Mandelblit on Saturday, joining several lawmakers who already had asked him to remove the Balad MKs’ parliamentary immunity.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman took to Facebook to essentially say “I told you so” about other politicians’ responses to the behavior of the Balad MKs.
“Suddenly, everyone is Yisrael Beytenu,” Liberman quipped.
“Suddenly, everyone remembered that there is a problem with the Arab MKs. Netanyahu and Lapid talk to the attorney- general, ministers and MKs say there is no place for them in the Knesset and even Ilan Gilon of Meretz said they lost their way.”
Liberman pointed out that all of those people, including Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs, voted against his bill, which likely would have disqualified Zoabi from running for the next Knesset by not allowing the Supreme Court to cancel Central Election Committee bans.
The Supreme Court has overturned all past Central Elections Committee decisions to ban Balad or individual members of the party from running for Knesset.