Arab MK Jabareen goes to court after Knesset nixes speaking tour

Arab MK Jabareen goes to court after Knesset nixes speaking tour

New rule allows Ethics Committee to ban trips funded by pro-boycott groups, calling into question the lawmaker’s upcoming lecture series with Jewish Voice for Peace

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Arab lawmaker and an Arab Israeli rights group appealed to the High Court of Justice on Sunday against a decision by the Knesset to bar the MK from participating in a US speaking tour paid for by a group that advocates boycotting Israel.

MK Youssef Jabareen of the Joint (Arab) List was to take part in a June tour put on by the US-based far-left group Jewish Voice for Peace.

Last month, the Knesset House Committee approved a change to the code of ethics for lawmakers that empowers the parliament’s Ethics Committee to forbid trips overseas by MKs if the trips are funded by groups advocating boycotts of Israel.

The list of groups was based on a blacklist of boycott-supporting organizations compiled by the Strategic Affairs Ministry and published in January.

Jabarin intended to fly to the United States with funding from the US organization Jewish Voice for Peace, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which encourages artists, companies and individuals to cut ties with Israel and refrain from visiting it or purchasing its products over what it views as mistreatment of Palestinians.

Jewish Voice for Peace members during a July 19, 2014 anti-Israel gathering in Boston. JVP has funded and advised Students for Justice in Palestine chapters for many years. (Elan Kawesch/The Times of Israel)

According to Adalah, the rights group that took Jabareen’s case to the High Court, his trip is the first time the power has been used to actually prevent such a tour.

In its petition, Adalah argued to the court that the change to the Knesset’s ethics rules, and its use in Jabareen’s case, “directly harms political freedom of expression and the right to free movement for Knesset members,” according to a statement from the group.

Neither the trip nor JVP itself are illegal, Adalah notes.

“Rather, the restriction stems solely from the fact that JVP… maintains a particular political position vis-a-vis Israeli government policies and calls for a boycott in an effort to bring about an end to the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territory,” the statement reads.

The new Knesset rule is thus “intended to limit the legitimate parliamentary activity of a Knesset member solely because the political views of the body financing the trip stand in contrast to those of the political majority in Israel.”

In response to the Ethics Committee’s decision, Jabareen said the Knesset “continues with its attempts to hobble Arab members of Knesset in an illegal and undemocratic manner.”

“This series of lectures in which I am slated to participate in the United States is an essential part of my role as an elected official and of the freedom of political activity,” he said.

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