MK Haneen Zoabi at the High Court of Justice.
(photo credit: NOAM MOSKOVICH)
The state and MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad) cut a plea bargain that would drop the most serious charge of incitement against her for telling a crowd of protesters in 2014 that Israeli Arabs who work for government security forces “should be scared of us,” but will lead to her conviction for disgracing a public servant.
Zoabi and the state prosecution are expected to disagree on the punishment, with the state seeking a suspended jail sentence, and Zoabi opposing, while agreeing to a fine, according to the deal reached late on Thursday.
In January, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein invited Zoabi to a pre-indictment hearing to enable her to dispute the charges and convince him to change his mind.
However, it is rare for the state to back off of an indictment once there has been a public announcement.
The proposed charges for incitement and disgracing a public servant relate to comments she made at a protest during a July 6 hearing at a Nazareth court. A statement 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 had 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.”
On the other hand, a wide range of political leaders have supported bringing charges relating to incitement against Zoabi for the incident in question and previous incidents.
In August 2014, Weinstein told Zoabi that members of Knesset had no legal immunity from undergoing police questioning. However, they do have a presumption of immunity from indictment, though he was eventually ready to remove that immunity.
He noted at the time that she also had immunity from arrest, certain searches and wire-tapping.
Also, on Thursday the High Court of Justice released its full opinion for why Zoabi could not be disqualified from last March’s Knesset elections despite substantial objections to her conduct and a certain level of sympathy with those politicians who had wished to disqualify her. A short decision allowing her to run had been released prior to Election Day.
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 mid-June 2014.