Zoabi fumes at restricted audience in appearance in Haifa

Lecture prompts bitter protests on campus; Balad MK also appeals to court over revoked parliamentary privileges; Tibi comes under fire for trip to Libya.

November 16, 2010 03:27
3 minute read.
Protest at Haifa University against Zoabi.

Haifa university protest 311. (photo credit: IM TIRTZU)


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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.

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.”

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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 activity.”

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 privileges.

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 petition.

“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.

The Ethics 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.

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