MK Haneen Zoabi at the High Court of Justice.
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)
The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Sunday gave MK Haneen Zoabi a six-month suspended prison sentence following her January 21 conviction for “insulting a public servant” as part of a deal with the prosecution.
The suspended prison sentence came despite Zoabi’s strong opposition, even as she had agreed to the conviction and a fine.
To try to talk the court down from the suspended sentence, the Joint List/Balad lawmaker had told the court on January 21, “My struggle is not against people, though the harm was to people.”
A suspended sentence means that it will only be implemented in if she commits the same crime again, but that if she does, it kicks in automatically without a new trial.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman leader Avigdor Liberman called the sentence too lenient and a “heavy rock weighing down Israeli democracy which does not know how to defend itself against those who destroy it from within.”
He complained that Zoabi has repeatedly gotten off easy due to leniency from the prosecution and the courts.
The case stems from a 2014 incident. On January 7, 2016, the Northern District Attorney’s Office filed an indictment and plea bargain agreement with the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court.
The plea bargain was endorsed by the court also on January 21, leading to the dropping of the most serious charge of incitement against Zoabi for telling a crowd of protesters that Israeli Arabs who work for the security forces “should be scared of us,” but led to her conviction for insulting a public servant.
Despite the deal on the charges, Zoabi and the state prosecution disagreed on the punishment, with the state seeking a suspended jail sentence, and Zoabi opposing this, while agreeing to an NIS 3,000 fine and to making an apology.
In addressing the court to convince it not to give her a suspended sentence, Zoabi had stated, “My lawyer told me to say that I agree with his arguments and I do agree with them, but I want to add a few words. I have stood by my position that I had no interest in insulting anyone personally.
“I did not confess in order to save time for the prosecution or for the court. I expressed that this was not my way because that is my own internal truth. I am a public representative and my way is through the political process....I have nothing personal against any police officer or public servant and my struggle is not against people, though it is accurate that the harm was to people. Therefore, I retracted [my statement], because this was not part of my worldview,” she concluded.
The court on Sunday said that despite her genuine apology, she had shown no real empathy for the Arab-Israeli police officers she had insulted, her words had been considered and not entirely spontaneous and she needed to shoulder a heavy responsibility for her actions as a public figure.
Answering Zoabi’s concern that a suspended prison sentence would hurt her electoral prospects in the future, the court said that the Israeli electorate has reelected MKs who have gotten worse punishments than Zoabi, such that “nothing about the punishment imposed on her will prevent her from competing for the public’s faith and support and that the punishment will not hurt her general standing...rather her own actions have done this.”
Because of Zoabi’s status as an MK, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had personally signed off on the plea deal.
The case relates to comments she made at a protest during a July 6, 2014, hearing at a Nazareth court.
The Justice Ministry said Zoabi had called Israeli-Arab police officers “traitors,” implied threats against them and told a protesting crowd to spit in their faces.
In January, Balad said the party’s lawyer Hassan Jabarin told Weinstein he would be willing to hold an urgent hearing on the matter in order to convince him not to indict Zoabi and that there was no legal basis for putting her on trial.
“The State Attorney’s Office does not usually put elected officials on trial for a spontaneous expression made in the heat of the moment in public political activity,” Jabarin said. “Therefore, if charges are pressed, the state will have to explain to the court why Zoabi is discriminated against, since in dozens of similar cases, including worse ones, not only was there no indictment, there was no investigation.”
However, with the reduced charge, Zoabi eventually decided cutting a deal was better than fighting on the issue of alleged discrimination.
In July 2014, Weinstein closed a different investigation against Zoabi without charging her with incitement for giving several media interviews seemingly supporting the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in Gush Etzion in mid-June 2014.