A trip by three Arab Israeli MKs to Qatar was funded by former Balad MK and suspected Hezbollah spy Azmi Bishara, the newspaper Calcalist reported on Tuesday evening.
The financial newspaper said that Doha’s Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, of which Bishara is the director-general, funded the trip by Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas to Qatar.
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 — source of 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.
In response to the Calcalist report, Kariv said late Tuesday that her suspicions regarding the MKs’ trip had been confirmed.
“This evening, the claim I made a month ago proved to be true — that Azmi Bishara, who was denounced as a traitor, continues to be active within the State of Israel,” Kariv said.
“Bishara manages, guides and funds the three Balad MKs. The attorney-general’s investigation must be swift, and I call once again upon the head of the Knesset Ethics Committee to convene the committee for an urgent discussion on the matter.”
Along with Kariv, 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 there 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.
Liberman said he was confident that the attorney general would launch an investigation into how the trip was funded, the legality of the trip and whether funds were transferred at their request from Qatar or Bishara.
Balad MK Basel Ghattas defended the trip.
“I don’t see in this any challenge or defiance against anybody,” he said, according to Israeli daily Haaretz. “This is not the first time that we have visited Qatar. Tzipi Livni visited there several months ago.”
Liberman’s call was echoed by a number of politicians from the right flank of the Knesset, including Likud members Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and MK Miri Regev, as well as Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Miller.
Balad and specifically MK Zoabi have been under attack by Israel’s right wing regularly over the past several months stemming from a number of incidents, most recently when she and Zahalka were arrested at an Arab Israeli protest against Operation Protective Edge in July.
On Tuesday, just under a week after she was called in for a lengthy five-hour interrogation, police recommended that Zoabi be put on trial for incitement, threats and insulting a civil servant.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch alleged that Zoabi struck a police officer and called for the revocation of her Knesset immunity. The Knesset Ethics Committee later suspended Zoabi from participating in debates on the Knesset floor for six months.
Liberman also said he would seek to have Zoabi and the Balad party disqualified from elections following a Zoabi interview with Al-Jazeera in which she said that the “Palestinian resistance will not surrender” and that Israelis want a short military campaign in Gaza, “because the Israeli home front cannot stand a protracted conflict.”
In an official statement, a Hamas spokesperson later hailed Zoabi as a “Palestinian woman full of patriotism,” expressing the wish that some in the Palestinian Authority would take her as an example.
Liberman called Balad “a party of traitors.”
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to investigate Zoabi after two policemen, apparently Arabs themselves, complained that during hearings for the extension of arrest for Israeli-Arabs who demonstrated against Operation Protective Edge, she insulted them with a spiteful outburst. According to Ynet, Zoabi called them “collaborators with the oppressors of their own people” and said “they should be used to wipe the floor.”
Zoabi had previously drawn the ire of Israeli politicians from across the spectrum in June when she said that the kidnappers of three Israeli teens, who were later found murdered, were not terrorists.