Outraged lawmakers call to penalize Arab MK over Gaza flotilla participation

Joint List supports flotilla, condemns Ghattas' "vilification" by right-wing MKs; Zoabi wishes she could join flotilla, too.

MK Bassel Ghattas (photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)
MK Bassel Ghattas
(photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)
Politicians called for MK Basel Ghattas to be punished for his planned participation in the third Gaza flotilla on the Marianne av Göteborg, which is on its way to Gaza and is scheduled to arrive by the end of the month.
Ghattas (Balad Party/Joint List), in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday, said that the effort is meant to bring attention to the siege on Gaza.
Arab MK joining third Gaza-bound flotilla talks to Jpost
When asked if he found it problematic that an MK is acting against the state, Ghattas responded that what he is doing is legitimate political action.
The media coordinator for the Gaza flotilla told the Post on Monday that the Marianne av Göteborg is on its way to Gaza and is scheduled to arrive by the end of the month.
“Next stop is Gaza,” said spokesman Staffan Granér, adding that the trawler is scheduled to meet up with at least two more boats in the eastern Mediterranean. He would not elaborate on details of the rendezvous or the status of the other ships.
Asked about Israel’s decision to block the flotilla from reaching Gaza, Granér said it is a “bad decision.”
“We are not an aid organization,” he continued, noting that the flotilla respects aid organizations working in Gaza. “The main problem with delivering aid to Gaza is the restriction of trade.”
“If they don’t let us in, our message is still getting in,” said Granér defiantly. “The blockade is illegal and creates less security for everyone.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Sunday that the Foreign Ministry is working around the clock through all possible diplomatic channels to ensure that the ship does not reach Israel’s territorial waters.
Ghattas’s participation in the flotilla is a case of “serving the enemy with parliamentary immunity,” she said.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev wrote a letter to Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Knesset Ethics Committee chairman Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) asking that Ghattas’s parliamentary immunity be removed, so he can be investigated on criminal charges.
“We must put a stop to use of the job of MK to undermine the state,” she wrote. “The time has come to bring order and prevent Arab MKs from inciting against the State of Israel.”
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu) said the Ethics Committee should examine the incident and consider removing Ghattas’s immunity, and submitted a motion to the agenda on the topic, which is likely to be brought up in the plenum on Wednesday.
“The flotilla to Gaza is not humanitarian, it’s political. An MK is cynically using his immunity and looking to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through provocations and not through peace,” she said.
Knesset House Committee chairman David Bitan plans to hold a vote on Tuesday as to whether the committee should request that the Ethics Committee suspend Ghattas from all Knesset activities except voting from the date he participates in the flotilla.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, however, spoke out against changing the rules of immunity for MKs.
“MKs won’t be able to act as public representatives because they will constantly be checking the limits of the Immunity Law, and it has nothing to do with one flotilla or another. It’s about everyone in this house and first and foremost members of the opposition, who represent minorities. [Immunity] is our joint privilege and we should not harm it,” he said.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin said the High Court is responsible for making it clear to Ghattas that he can get away with participating in the flotilla.
“The High Court sponsors terrorist supporters.... The fact that the High Court canceled the Central Elections Committee vote, which disqualified [Haneen] Zoabi from running for Knesset by a wide margin, makes it legitimate for more MKs to act against Israel and walk in Zoabi’s path. Israeli democracy cannot deal with its challenges in the Middle East if it cannot defend itself and severely punish those who act against it,” he stated.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called on Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh to condemn Ghattas’s participation in the flotilla, pointing out that Odeh said he wants to change relations between Jews and Arabs for the better.
“What the members of Balad do shames the Knesset and all of us.
Supporting the enemy and terrorism is not what is expected of a member of parliament,” he stated.
Odeh, however, did the opposite of what Levin demanded.
“Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a big crime, and so is war and the killing of civilians,” Odeh said at the opening of a Joint List faction meeting on Monday.
“We support the humanitarian flotilla participation of MK Basel Ghattas, intended to raise the issue of the terrible suffering of Gazans living in a big prison,” said Odeh.
The faction released a statement supporting the “Freedom Flotilla” and condemning “the campaign of incitement and vilification” against Ghattas by “a number of extreme right-wing MKs.”
Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, who, like Ghattas, is a member of Balad, expressed desire to join the flotilla, but will not be doing so, she stated in an interview with Army Radio on Monday.
“Every normal person would participate in the struggle against the blockade and imprisonment of two million people on a piece of land,” said Zoabi, who participated in the 2010 flotilla on the Mavi Marmara ship, which IDF commandos boarded, killing nine armed attackers.
Referring to Israel, Zoabi said there will be “a need to prosecute those responsible politically and militarily for the situation in Gaza.”
“Israel is in control of the situation, and is responsible according to international law. Those in Israel cannot expect to live a normal life when the occupation and the siege goes on in Gaza.”
Opposition MKs also spoke out against Ghattas, with MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) saying “if there aren’t any weapons on the ship, it can continue to Gaza with MK Ghattas on it. As far as I’m concerned, he can stay there. We won’t miss his provocations in the Knesset. Before he takes a flotilla to Gaza, he should take a cab to Taiba and deal with Israeli Arabs’ problems.”
MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) expressed disappointment that a motion to the agenda about the flotilla, which she proposed a month ago, was never accepted, and that the government waited until the last minute to deal with the problem.
Svetlova, a former Arab affairs reporter for Post and Russian-language television, said she found out about the flotilla from foreign Arab-language press.
Before Ghattas departed, he agreed to offset MK Yaacov Margi (Shas) on Monday, because the latter’s daughter was getting married.
Offsetting in this case would mean that Ghattas would absent himself from votes so that the coalition-opposition proportions would remain as they usually are.
Once Margi heard where Ghattas was going, he said that if he could not find a different opposition MK to offset him, he would leave his daughter’s huppa to vote. In the end, MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu) came to his rescue.
Ghattas told the Post on Sunday evening that he would join the protest ship headed for Gaza and that the activists have no violent intentions.
Asked if violence could break out if the IDF intercepted the Marianne av Göteborg, he replied, “If the IDF wants to kill, then shoot, but we will not shoot or have any weapons whatsoever of any kind or any violent intention.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.