Haifa university protest 311.
(photo credit: IM TIRTZU)
Balad MK Haneen Zoabi on Monday accused the University of Haifa of “trampling
the right to free speech” by giving her only a small room for an appearance
before the members of her party’s student organization, limiting her audience to
only a few dozen students. Zoabi had hoped to speak at a larger, 300-capacity
auditorium on the campus.
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The university’s dean of students, Prof. Yoav
Lavie, explained that he had restricted the event because he had heard that
other political groups planned to “exploit it to cause violent confrontations
which could lead to blood spilling.”
Zoabi’s appearance prompted bitter
demonstrations on campus, with some students castigating the MK – in part
because of her participation in the Gaza flotilla incident – waving Israeli
flags and shouting pro-Israel slogans. Other students decried what they said was
the undemocratic situation of their being unable to get in to hear a talk by a
serving member of Knesset.
In a letter to Lavie, written when she
anticipated being barred from the campus altogether, Zoabi wrote, “No one can
prevent me from coming to the university and being in contact with my voters. My
participation in this event is part of my parliamentary activity, just as my
participation in the freedom flotilla constituted a human, moral, civil and
political duty of the first order, and was [also] part of my parliamentary
Zoabi, who sailed aboard the Mavi Marmara in the flotilla that
tried to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, petitioned the High Court of
Justice earlier this week, demanding that the Knesset revoke its allegedly
illegal decision to strip her of some of her parliamentary
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – The
Legal Center for the Rights of the Arab Minority in Israel, joined her in the
“The petitioners will argue that [the Knesset] exceeded its
authority and acted contrary to the law of immunity for MKs, which forbids
injury to the immunity or privileges of a member of Knesset for political
activity which falls within the definition of substantive immunity,” wrote
attorney Hassan Jabarin, the director-general of Adalah.
On July 13, the
Knesset voted 34 to 16 to strip Zoabi of three parliamentary privileges: the
ability to travel anywhere without permission from the interior minister, except
in wartime; the right to travel with a diplomatic passport; and the right to
have some legal expenses covered if an MK is prosecuted for any deed done in the
context of his or her parliamentary responsibilities.
The complaint that
led to Zoabi’s losing these privileges was lodged by National Union MK Michael
Ben-Ari in the Knesset House Committee on April 28, four days after Zoabi
returned from a trip to Libya with five other Arab MKs. The complaint had to do
with that trip.
However, the second committee hearing on the MKs’ visit
took place one week after the Mavi Marmara incident.
Even though Ben-Ari
did not update his complaint to include the flotilla incident, the committee
voted to punish Zoabi due to her participation.
None of the other Arab
MKs was punished over the Libya affair.
Jabarin argued that Zoabi’s
parliamentary immunity was valid not only against the executive branch of
government, but also against the legislature. Otherwise, the Knesset majority
could always remove the privileges of minority MKs whose political views were
unacceptable to them.
In a related development, the Knesset Ethics
Committee reprimanded UAL-Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi on Monday for his April visit to
Libya with a number of other Arab MKs. Although Ben-Ari had also submitted
complaints to the committee against the other MKs – Balad’s Zoabi and Jamal
Zahalka, Hadash’s Muhammad Barakei and Afo Agbaria, and the UAL’s Taleb a-Sanaa
– the committee decided to reprimand only Tibi because it was not the first time
he had traveled overseas without receiving proper permission.
Committee clarified that Libya is not considered a state that Israelis are
forbidden to visit, and thereby negated the more serious of the two complaints
against the MKs.
MKs traveling overseas through any funding other than
their own or the Knesset’s are required to request official permission before
leaving the country. This particular trip was subsidized by the Libyan
government, and the MKs were guests of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.