Former MK sentenced to a year in prison for Syria visit

Former MK sentenced to a year in prison for Syria visit

Said Nafa, who met with secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, says he's victim of witch-hunt

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Convicted ex-MK Said Nafa (screen capture: YouTube)
Convicted ex-MK Said Nafa (screen capture: YouTube)

The Nazareth Regional Court on Thursday sentenced former MK Said Nafa to a year in prison over trips he made to Syria and Lebanon when he was still a member of the Israeli parliament.

Nafa, who is Druze, was convicted in April of meeting with a foreign agent and traveling to an enemy country. On Thursday he was also given an additional six months on probation. The former MK intends to appeal the sentence in the High Court.

In 2007, when he was still an MK for the Balad party, Nafa traveled to Syria where he met with Talal Naji, the deputy director of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is designated a terrorist organization by the EU, US, Israel and Canada.

Prosecutor Yael Kochavi of the State Attorney’s Office said the conviction and sentence would send a clear message to others who might follow in Nafa’s footsteps, Channel 2 reported.

“It is an important decision for every MK who plans to commit similar offenses, and it shows that it is a punishable offense, “she said.

Nafa told Channel 2 that he had expected no other outcome from the judicial system.

“I always said that I will accept a sentence of a year, whatever the allegation are. In the end, I would never get out of this thing without serving time. This whole thing is a political witch-hunt,” he said. “This decision will not prevent people in Israel from being in contact with their relatives in Syria and Lebanon.”

The former MK pointed to the fact that several months ago charges were dropped against more than a dozen Druze sheiks who had traveled with him to the same destinations, saying it was an indication that a political hit-job was behind the conviction.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he welcomed the sentencing.

“This is an important message that the court is sending: that Israel will not abide subversive activities against the state from those who are sitting in its legislative body and at the same time working to destroy it,” Liberman said.

Druze communities are scattered over the Israeli Golan Heights, Lebanon, and Syria. Israeli Druze are occasionally able to travel to the neighboring countries to visit family and other communities who are separated by international boundaries.

Nafa, a Beit Jann resident who served in the Knesset from 2007 to 2013, has advocated that Israel’s Druze population abandon its traditional loyalty to Israel, adopt a Palestinian and pan-Arab identity, and stop performing mandatory IDF service alongside Israeli Jews.

The former lawmaker organized a trip of 282 Druze religious figures to Syria in September 2007. Nafa was told by the Interior Ministry that he would not be given permission for the trip but proceeded with his travel arrangements anyway, with the help of then-MK Azmi Bishara, now a fugitive from the Israeli law accused of passing sensitive information to Syria. Nafa and his entourage reached Syria after coordinating with the Syrian embassy in Jordan, and he later met with a Naji.

Nafa was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2010 by a Knesset committee.

In late August, three members of Balad, Nafa’s former party, met with Bishara in Qatar, prompting a Knesset ethics committee investigation and calls for Balad to be outlawed. The trip was allegedly funded by Bishara.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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