Three Arab members of Knesset cited bureaucratic difficulties to explain why they had failed to file a report to the Knesset Ethics Committee ahead of a visit to Qatar that was allegedly paid for by former Balad MK and suspected Hezbollah spy Azmi Bishara.
Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas on Tuesday provided almost identical texts to the committee in which they cited “technical reasons” for not following protocol and reporting the trip earlier this month, before they traveled.
After explaining that the visit was from August 13-15 and all expenses were paid for by Doha’s Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, the MKs declared that due to the complications of traveling to Qatar, which doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel, they were not able to file an earlier report.
“I would like to stress that I could not report to the Ethics Committee before I traveled, for purely technical reasons, because until the last minute it was not clear if the trip would take place, as this depends on the issuing of visas for the State of Qatar, which was delayed until the last minute,” they wrote.
Each MK also stated: “I will note that I have reservations about the procedure regarding reporting to the Ethics Committee, but nevertheless, I accept the rules of ethics and respect them.”
Bishara is the director-general of the research center that funded the trip.
The funding covered the lawmakers’ tickets, hotel accommodation and other expenses during their two-day stay in the Qatari capital. Knesset regulations mandate that lawmakers submit all information about the sources of funding for their trips to the Knesset Ethics Committee prior to traveling abroad, but the three MKs only submitted the information to the committee upon their return.
Earlier Tuesday, the Knesset Ethics Committee announced it would discuss the trip — the source of its funding and its purpose — following an official request by Yesh Atid MK Yifat Kariv and an outpouring of criticism by other Israeli politicians Monday after reports suggested that the trio had met with Bishara during the trip.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and other lawmakers railed against Balad Monday, threatening to have the party disqualified from future Knesset elections.
“The trip by members of Balad, the party that was founded and led by Azmi Bishara… proves decisively once again to those who are still skeptical that there is no place for them in the Israeli Knesset,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.
He added that while the High Court of Justice had previously struck down bans preventing Balad from running in Knesset elections, “we will continue and do everything possible so that this fifth column that represents the terror organizations in the Israeli Knesset finds its place removed from the house of representatives and put behind bars.”
According to a Channel 2 report, the Balad party’s three MKs met with Bishara, the founder of Balad and a former MK and academic who has lived in Qatar in self-imposed exile since 2007. He fled Israel after being investigated over suspicions that he provided Hezbollah with information during the Second Lebanon War.