Fugitive former MK Bishara's think tank paid for Balad MKs' Qatar trip

Knesset Ethics Committee to review the trip's funding and Balad's failure to report it in advance.

Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Azmi Bashara (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST,ARAB MEDIA)
Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Azmi Bashara
The Knesset Ethics Committee will review whether Balad MKs violated Knesset regulations by traveling to Hamas sponsor Qatar last week on the dime of fugitive former MK Azmi Bishara, who is suspected of espionage.
In three nearly identical letters they sent to the Ethics Committee on Tuesday, Balad’s chairman Jamal Zahalka and MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas said they were “invited by The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, which funded the trip, our board and our stay in a hotel.”
The center’s general director is Bishara, the Balad founder who fled Israel in 2007 while under investigation for passing information to Hezbollah during the previous year’s Second Lebanon War. The Arab Center’s website claims Bishara was “persecuted for his political positions at the hands of the Israeli authorities.”
Bishara reportedly received Qatari citizenship since moving to the country and is close to the country’s emir, who is a primary sponsor of Hamas.
The Balad lawmakers wrote that during their trip to Qatar, they made media appearances and met with “intellectuals and academics and Qatari government officials.”
The Jerusalem Post learned on Wednesday that following calls by MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid), MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) and many other MKs, the Ethics Committee, led by Shas lawmaker Yitzhak Cohen, plans to review the trip’s funding and Balad’s failure to report it in advance.
The Balad MKs also addressed the fact that they broke the Knesset’s rule that trips abroad must be approved by the Ethics Committee, also in advance.
They said they were unable to notify the committee ahead of time because they did not receive visas until the day before they left.
“I hope the committee will understand the circumstances,” they wrote.
On Tuesday night, MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid) said, “Now it’s proven, as I claimed a month ago, that Azmi Bishara, who was recognized as a traitor, continues to act in the State of Israel.
“Bishara is managing, leading and funding the three MKs from Balad. There must be a swift investigation by the attorney- general,” she added.
On Monday, Balad released a statement saying the trip was legitimate political activity and the MKs went to appear in the media – although they have appeared on Qatari channel Al Jazeera several times from Israel in recent weeks – and there was nothing illegal about the trip.
Zahalka said he did not see Qatar or its residents as enemies, rather as brothers, and it was natural for him to be in contact with them.
“Our political activity is not meant to curry favor with the likes of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman, [Transportation Minister Israel] Katz, [Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri] Regev... and other fascists and warmongers. Rather, it is meant to represent the public that elected us and the principles of equality, freedom and peace,” he said.
As for meeting with Bishara, Zahalka said Balad MKs “met with him dozens of times in the past, as well as this time. Bishara is our friend and naturally we meet with him.”
On Tuesday, police recommended Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein indict Zoabi for inciting against, threatening and insulting a public servant following an incident in July in which she called Israeli-Arab police officers traitors, implied threats against them and told a protesters to spit in their faces.