Balad press conference, Septebmer 18, 2016.
(photo credit: BALAD SPOKESPERSON)
Some Arab MKs have crossed the line that separates legitimate political activism from incitement and supporting terrorism.
Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas, the three MKs from Balad, one of four parties that make up the Joint Arab List, have crossed this line more than others.
The Joint List’s other members and its chairman, Ayman Odeh, are going to have to make a decision. Will they continue to allow Balad’s MKs to set the agenda and undermine attempts to convey messages of reconciliation and coexistence between Arabs and Jews or will they demonstrate real leadership and present a more pragmatic, and ultimately more effective, model for political activism?
On Tuesday, Ghattas was questioned by police over suspicions he smuggled cellphones and coded intelligence information to Palestinian prisoners serving time for murderous terrorist acts.
One of the prisoners that Ghattas is alleged to have met with is Walid Daka, who was sentenced to 37 years for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.
Since its establishment in 1995, Balad has managed to make a name for itself as the most actively anti-Israel party operating in the Knesset.
Azmi Bishara, a former Knesset member and Balad founder, fled Israel for Qatar in 2007 after he was suspect- ed of funneling classified information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Ghattas, who like Bishara is a Christian, shares the Balad founder’s virulent opposition to the integration of Israel’s Arabs in Israeli society.
Ghattas has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, an organi- zation that promotes enlistment in IDF service for Israel’s indigenous Christian population. Incitement instigated by Ghattas against Father Gabriel Naddaf, the most public figure in the local Christian community supporting IDF service, has resulted in verbal and physical attacks against Naddaf and his son.
In February, the members of Balad met in east Jerusalem with the families of terrorists responsible for murdering Israelis. After the meeting, Ghattas told Arab Israeli TV that Palestinians who attacked Israelis were not commit- ting a crime, but were fighting “oppressive occupation.”
Ghattas has also spoken out against the lighting of a torch on Memorial Day by Lucy Aharish, an Arab Israeli news presenter and actress. After she took part in the ceremony, Ghattas wrote on his Twitter account that, “The lighting of the torch by Lucy Aharish does not represent co-existence...but [represents] the internalization of the defeat of the victim to the point of admiring the oppressor and his victory.”
Like Zoabi, Ghattas has been aboard protest flotillas that have attempted to break the blockade imposed on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, apparently to enable Hamas to continue to smuggle into Gaza arms and weapons that can be used against Israel.
But there are signs that the Arab public is not being adequately and fairly represented by Ghattas and Zoabi. In the 2013 municipal elections, for instance, Ali Salam a moderate politician who supports the integration of Arab Israelis, easily defeated Haneen Zoabi for the position of mayor of Nazareth.
She may be the “star” of the Mavi Marmara flotilla and known for her outrageous statements (she argued that the kidnappers and murderers of three Israeli yeshiva students – Naftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah – were not terrorists), but even the younger residents of Nazareth rejected her. She suffered a humiliating defeat, receiving just 10% of the vote.
In a recent survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, 60% of Arab Israelis described their personal situation as “good” or “very good” in Israel while 55% said they were “proud citizens” of the State of Israel.
If allegations against Ghattas are true, he should be tried and jailed. However, the Ghattas case raises a more pressing and fundamental question: Will Odeh and other members of the Joint List steer Arab political leadership in a more pragmatic direction or will they undermine a gradual process of integration and healing?