Democracy must be preserved even during wartime

At this difficult time in our history, we would do well to remember the words of John F. Kennedy: “Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish."

Balad MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Balad MK Haneen Zoabi at the Knesset.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The decision by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to ban MK Haneen Zoabi from all parliamentary activity except voting for the next six months is both a mistake in judgment and a challenge to the survival of democracy in Israel.
Before anyone misunderstands me, let me be clear that I think Haneen Zoabi is a danger to Israel, that her activities border on treason and that her use of the democratic process to undermine the stated policies of the government to which she swears allegiance is reason enough for her to be removed permanently from the Knesset.
Having said that, Israel needs to be very careful not to use the difficult situation in which it finds itself today as an excuse to undermine the critical pillars of democratic life in this country.
I wrote after the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 that Haneen Zoabi’s participation in that activity when she was a sitting member of the Knesset was no less than an act of treason.
I believed it then, and I believe it now, even though no charges were ever brought against her. It was a mistake not to prosecute her for that at the time.
The current situation, however, involves remarks she made publicly at the time the three young yeshiva boys Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer were kidnapped, namely that “the kidnappers are not terrorists. They have to use these means until Israel will wake up a little, until the citizens of Israel and Israeli society will wake up and feel the suffering of the other.”
Effectively she condoned the kidnapping and, of course, we all know the very sad end of that story both for the families involved and for all of us who live here.
As a result of those comments and others (i.e. her support for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel during Operation Protective Edge and the posting on a Hamas website encouraging Palestinians to take part in “popular resistance” and put Israel under siege instead of negotiating), Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein investigated, and ruled that her words did not constitute criminal incitement.
At that point the case was closed. Frankly, the attorney general was probably wrong on this item as well, not so much regarding what she said but because she is a sitting member of the Knesset during a war, and her statements are in direct opposition to the policies of the government she is pledged to support.
So, yes, she should have been labeled guilty of treason in 2010 for her participation in an exercise sponsored by foreign forces against policies of the government to which she swore allegiance. And yes, she should have been found guilty of criminal incitement for her latest remarks praising the actions of the enemy of the government to which she swore allegiance.
But the arm of government charged with making those determinations decided, for better or worse, that the charges did not have merit. It demeans the integrity of the Knesset for it to pass judgment on its own, a judgment that differs from the official position of the state. We need to remember that the Knesset is not a private club, but an arm of the Government of Israel.
If it were private club, and it wanted to expel a member, it would have the right to do so without regard to what anyone else says (as long as its decision conformed to the existing laws of the country).
But the Knesset makes a mistake to think that it can act unilaterally because of a perceived lapse in judgment on the part of the attorney general.
Once again, I am no fan of MK Zoabi and think she is a dangerous and destructive element in Israel society who has clearly demonstrated that she should not be permitted to hold public office. However, the democratic nature of the country is challenged by those government elements who, in the name of some higher authority, choose to impose their own sentences. And the fact that we are at war does not give them license to do so.
At this difficult time in our history, we would do well to remember the words of John F. Kennedy: “Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy, and it honors the sword of freedom.” Those words were true 50 years ago when they were first uttered and remain so today. We simply have to remind ourselves of their import.
The author is a 30-year resident of Jerusalem, president of Atid EDI Ltd., an economic development consulting firm, and past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel.