Israeli Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalka.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
MK Oded Forrer of Yisrael Beytenu petitioned the High Court on Tuesday to demand that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit open an investigation against Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka for inciting to terrorism and disrespecting state symbols.
Forrer cited two instances: First, in 2015, Zahalka told residents of Umm al-Hiran that “if we need to spill blood, we will. That is the only way the authorities will understand that we’re crazy. We, members of the Palestinian nation, prefer to die than to be expelled.”
Two years later, riots took place in the village, in which police shot an Israeli Arab man who they claimed at first was a terrorist executing a car-ramming attack, but later found was simply trying to leave the area.
In 2017, Zahalka said in an interview that he “prefers to die than to sing the Israeli anthem,” and that the Israeli flag “is worse than a rag.”
According to Forrer, Zahalka’s remarks violate the Law to Combat Terrorism and the Flag, Symbol and Anthem Law. As such, he asked Mandelblit to prosecute Zahalka for crimes of “harming the state and rule of law, and clear incitement to violence and terror.”
Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka clashes with police at a protest outside the deditcation ceremony for the US embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018 (Joint List Media)
Members of Knesset have broad parliamentary immunity, which is meant to allow them to do their job without fear of legal actions against them. Therefore, MKs are not legally responsible for acts performed while on duty or in order to do their duties. They are also immune from searches, detention, criminal hearings and legal proceedings that aren’t directly connected to their being an MK.
However, the Knesset House Committee may vote to strip a lawmaker of immunity.
Mandelblit did not respond to Forrer, and as such, the MK petitioned the High Court to require the attorney-general to respond to him in a reasonable amount of time as to the possibility that Zahalka’s remarks incited the 2017 riots in Umm al-Hiran.
Forrer said: “Zahalka’s remarks are severe, and the fact that they weren’t said accidentally shows the worldview of a member of the Knesset in Israel, who calls for bloodshed and to harm symbols of the institution he serves.”
Zahalka responded that Forrer’s petition is spiteful and part of a Yisrael Beytenu campaign against Israeli Arabs.
According to Zahalka, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s party is trying “to win cheap popularity by inciting against Arabs and their leaders... This is a petition by a fascist party against freedom of expression and for limiting the right to political activity.”
“I stand behind my words about the flag and the anthem, which do not represent us [Israeli Arabs], and represent exclusion and harm to human and civil rights,” he added.
“Under the Israeli flag, serious crimes were committed against the Palestinian nation, including expulsion, killing and theft of land and property.”
Zahalka also said that he never called for violence.
“Even severe police violence will not deter us, and even bloodshed [like in Umm al-Hiran] will not make us stop our struggle. We will continue to defend our land, our existence and our rights,” he said.