High Court to rule on Knesset’s right to revoke privileges

After first hearing, right-wing activists raise ruckus, tell Haneen Zoabi: Go to Gaddafi!

Zoabi 311 (channel 10) (photo credit: Channel 10)
Zoabi 311 (channel 10)
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A ruckus broke out in the lobby of the Supreme Court on Monday when right-wing activists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel hurled insults at Balad MK Haneen Zoabi as she came out of the courtroom.
The judges had been debating the legality of a Knesset decision to strip her of some of her parliamentary rights.
“Go to Gadaffi! In any other country you would be in prison,” yelled the activists as Zoabi attempted to make a statement to reporters.
“You are a terrorist!” they shouted. “Go away, this is a Jewish state. We don’t want you here!” The High Court began deliberations of the case on Monday. Following the Knesset House Committee’s August decision to strip Zoabi of privileges accompanying her status as an MK – including the revocation of her diplomatic passport – because of her participation in the Free Gaza Flotilla last summer, Zoabi petitioned the High Court to declare the decision illegal.
On Monday, the judges – Eliezer Rivlin, Uzi Vogelman and Salim Joubran – indicated that before they could reach a decision on that particular matter, they would have to rule on the technical issue of whether or not the Knesset House Committee even had the authority to revoke these rights. Prior court rulings have not sufficiently answered the questions, and the judges hinted that it might require an expanded panel.
Ahead of the hearing, Zoabi told reporters that the “rightwing consensus in the Knesset that’s trying to punish me for my political positions and activities, is sanctioning the continued racist incitement against Arab MKs and the public they represent.”
Zoabi’s lawyers argued that the Knesset was not allowed to revoke the rights of one of its members simply because it disagreed with her opinions.
They warned of a slippery slope in which the majority would revoke the rights of the minority just because they could, and requested that the High Court draw a clear line on the actions that a Knesset committee was allowed to take in punishing an individual MK.
“My colleagues’ position may lead to a situation where the majority judges the minority for their opinions.
If their opinion is accepted, MKs will not only be able to say that an opinion is not to their liking, but that it is unworthy of being heard and that it is punishable,” said attorney Dan Geva on behalf of Zoabi.
“The Knesset may transform from a place where a range of opinions is expressed to a place where only a single opinion is heard.”
Dan Yakir, who represented the Association for Civil Rights in the case, said that Zoabi’s words had been mischaracterized and that in her participation in the flotilla, she had made no efforts to assist or encourage terrorist organizations, but rather to conduct a genuine protest on the Gaza blockade and provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.
“Not only is there no truth to the claim that she knew there were weapons aboard the ships, contrary to claims she had a hand in the violence against the soldiers, she attempted to mediate between the soldiers and the demonstrators,” said Yakir.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon said that in its actions against Zoabi, the Knesset was trying to strike a balance between the rage most MKs felt at Zoabi’s actions and the severe act of revoking parliamentary privileges. He said that compared to the initial request, which called for the revocation of six Arab MKs’ privileges after they visited Libya last year, the current decision was worthy and balanced.
“I think we are still a great distance away from the Knesset posing a danger to its MKs,” said Yinon. “This is a symbolic gesture aimed at discouraging similar future actions.”
National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, who initiated the revocation process, asked to be added as a respondent to the petition.
Following the hearing, Ben- Ari called Zoabi a terrorist and a spy and warned that she would use her diplomatic passport to travel around the world and club Israeli soldiers.
In an interview with Army Radio, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin expressed disapproval of the idea that the court could alter Knesset decisions, but warned MKs against giving the court reason to do so.
“I oppose Zoabi’s actions and think her boarding of the Mavi Marmara requires a police investigation to see whether she didn’t break the law, but I believe that this is not a decision for the Knesset or the Knesset’s members to make,” said Rivlin.