As thousands of Arab Israelis protested in northern cities for a second day against Israel’s operation in Gaza, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch campaigned to oust MK Hanin Zoabi and her Balad party from the Knesset Saturday. Zoabi was briefly handcuffed and arrested at a demonstration on Friday.
Liberman said he would appeal to the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Zoabi and Balad from running in the next Knesset elections, and Aharonovitch said he would seek to have Zoabi’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution lifted, along with that of a party colleague Jamal Zahalka.
Thousands of Israeli Arabs were reported to be protesting in Kafr Kanna on Saturday evening. Officials from the Islamic Movement spoke out not just against Israel, but also Egypt, which has taken a tough stance against Hamas in mediating ceasefire negotiations. “If [former Egyptian president] Morsi was still in power and dictating the rules to Hamas, we wouldn’t have gotten to this stage of the conflict,” an official from the Islamic Movement told Channel 2.
Hundreds of activists from the leftist Hadash party rallied in Haifa on Saturday night. Not far away, thousands of Israelis, including right-wing activists, held a competing rally.
Zoabi reportedly said in an interview with al-Jazeera that the “Palestinian resistance will not surrender.” She also reportedly said Israelis want a short campaign, “because the Israeli home front cannot stand a protracted conflict.”
According to Liberman, a Hamas spokesman, in an official statement, hailed Zoabi as a “Palestinian woman full of patriotism,” expressing the wish that some in the Palestinian Authority would take her as an example.
Calling Balad “a party of traitors,” Liberman said Saturday that he hoped the High Court of Justice will remember Zoabi’s words ahead of the next elections and won’t cancel the Central Elections Committee suspension of her candidacy, as happened during the last election campaign.
Members of Balad are “sworn enemies of Israel,” and don’t deserve to sit in the Knesset, Liberman added.
Aharonovitch called Saturday for the Knesset to strip Zoabi of her immunity following her arrest at a rally Friday against the IDF’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.
“I see this very seriously,” Aharonovitch said in an interview on Channel 10. “This isn’t the first time that Zoabi and [fellow Balad MK Jamal] Zahalka are attacking and trying to inflame the situation. We must condemn these things. I will ask the attorney general to strip them of their immunity. Once and for all, we must be done with these things.”
The public security minister also accused Zoabi of striking a police officer. Footage from the event showed Zoabi arguing with police officers who had handcuffed her, calling them liars and cowards. At one point she yelled, “You attack me and then say that I attacked you?”
Zoabi was briefly arrested during clashes between police and Arab Israeli protesters in Haifa Friday evening.
A number of police officers and protesters, among them Zahalka, who also took part in the rally, were lightly injured and received medical treatment at the spot.
Some of the protesters were reported to have waved Palestinian flags as they chanted slogans welcoming Hamas rocket fire at Tel Aviv. The demonstrators also shouted out slogans against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Police maintained the rally was unauthorized, as the demonstrators had failed to alert authorities of its existence.
Protests were also held Friday in Acre, Tamra, and Arab Israeli communities in the Wadi Ara area.
The northern branch of the Islamic Movement organized a mass prayer session in the Arab Israeli town of Kfar Qara Friday in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza. The chairman of the northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, spoke after the session and urged Arab leaders to intervene in order to bring about an immediate ceasefire.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.