The Knesset Ethics Committee on Monday banned three Arab MKs from parliamentary activity for several months, following a controversial meeting thy held last week with families of terrorists killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.
Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas were banned for four months, while Jamal Zahalka for two months, Channel 2 TV reported. All three are members of the Balad Party, which merged into the Joint (Arab) List before last year’s parliamentary election.
The ban extends to Knesset committee meetings and plenum discussions, but the MKs can vote as usual in parliamentary committees and the plenum.
The Ethics Committee said it had taken its decision, following numerous complaints about the three MKs’ behavior, “after receiving their responses in writing, as well as hearing directly from Zahalka.” It said it would publish its detailed reasoning separately.
The ban, according to a statement released by the Joint (Arab) List Monday evening, was the result of a “campaign of incitement led by Netanyahu, who has spearheaded this unethical and undemocratic decision.”
The faction slammed the disciplinary action as a “vindictive punishment” and said the three MKs had paid a “political price for taking a humane and moral stance.”
The parliamentarians insisted they visited the families of the Palestinian assailants solely as part of efforts to secure the release of their bodies for burial. (Israel often delays returning the bodies of attackers until the families pledge to ensure that the funerals will not used as opportunities to incite further violence against Israel.)
The three confirmed that they observed a moment of silence at the meeting, drawing ire from other Knesset members from across the political spectrum. Zahalka said subsequently it was a moment of respect “for all the Palestinian dead.”
Meanwhile, the coalition on Monday approved legislation, promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the Arab MKs’ meeting with the families, that could see lawmakers suspended from the Knesset over ethical violations if 90 of the 120 MKs in parliament vote to censure their colleagues for “unseemly behavior.”
Analysts said the bill, which must now make it way through a series of Knesset readings if it is to become law, might pass, but that it would prove unimplementable in the current parliament, in which Netanyahu’s coalition numbers just 61 MKs. Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and the Joint (Arab) List opposition parties oppose it, as do some members of the coalition.
On Monday afternoon, the prime minister defended the proposed legislation in the Knesset plenum, and praised his coalition for unanimously backing it.
Netanyahu said he strongly supports the integration of Arab Israelis into all fields of Israeli society, but it was intolerable that Israeli MKs had “stood in silence to honor terrorists.”
“We are not prepared to accept a situation in which MKs support the families of those who murder Israeli citizens. There’s a limit. There’s something called national pride. I wonder what would happen in the British Parliament if a British MP stood for a minute’s silence to honor Jihadi John, or if members of the US Congress stood to honor the California murderer,” he said. “[Those parliaments] would not accept it, and neither will we.”
Zahalka responded furiously to the speech, heckling the prime minister with calls of “fascist.” He was eventually ejected from the plenum.
Several Arab lawmakers boycotted Monday’s debate on the new legislation, as well as the session in the Knesset Ethics Committee, saying the discussions were an effort to “delegitimize Arab Knesset members and restrict the scope of their political action.”
A statement from the Ethics Committee highlighted that Zahalka, who received a more lenient sentence, showed up to Monday’s committee hearing over the case.
The Joint List said the ban would not deter their campaign to return the terrorists’ bodies.
All three MKs have maintained that the sole goal of their meeting with the families of the attackers, some of whom were terrorists who killed Israeli civilians, was to advance the release of their bodies, which have been held by Israeli authorities, and did not constitute support for terror. However, they acknowledged holding a moment’s silence at the meeting in honor of Palestinian dead, while Ghattas referred to the terrorists as “martyrs” in a subsequent TV interview.
Netanyahu has asked the attorney-general to examine whether the three could face criminal prosecution for holding the meeting with the terrorists’ families.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.