Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman led the charge as a host of Israeli politicians called for an investigation and possible sanctions against the Arab Israeli Balad party Monday, following reports that three of its members flew to Qatar, which Israel has accused of funding Hamas, and may have met with former party member and suspected Hezbollah spy Azmi Bishara.
“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 — Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi, and Basel Ghattas — visited Qatar and 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.
Israeli news source Ynet also reported that the trio traveled to the Gulf emirate, spoke to local media and met with academics, but did not mention a meeting with Bishara.
Liberman said he was confident that upon the Balad MKs’ return from Qatar 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.
“The High Court of Justice previously canceled a ban on Balad running in elections, and I hope this time it won’t intervene,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) said.
Likud MK Miri Regev said that it would be appropriate to investigate the three MKs, “especially now that everybody knows that [Hamas] terrorism is funded by the leaders of Qatar and that the leaders of Hamas are staying in Qatar and receiving protection.”
She added that Israel has not forgotten that Bishara had fled to Qatar, which she called “a refuge for terrorists.”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Miller cited the reported meeting with Bishara as “further proof of [Balad’s] hostile activity against Israel,” and added that he would approach the head of the ethics committee to look into whether the trip was funded by Israel or Hamas.
MK Yifat Kariv, of the more centrist Yesh Atid party, also questioned whether the Balad MKs had received proper authorization for the visit to Qatar as well as where they got the funding, and called on the Knesset Ethics Committee to investigate the possibility of leveling sanctions against the three.
Balad and specifically MK Zoabi have been under attack by Israel’s right wing regularly for 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.
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.
Foreign Minister Avigdor 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 against 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.