Arab MKs boycott Knesset opening

Politicians are noticeable no-show, claiming they are ‘personae non gratae’ in national legislature

Hanin Zoabi (center) and Jamal Zahalka (left) at the High Court of Justice (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hanin Zoabi (center) and Jamal Zahalka (left) at the High Court of Justice (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset members from two Arab-majority parties and a mixed Arab-Jewish party boycotted the opening meeting of the Knesset’s winter session Monday, citing racism, incitement against them and a violation of their rights to express themselves in parliament.

In a press conference at the Knesset, the MKs from the Balad, Ra’am-Ta’al, and Arab-Jewish Hadash parties also voiced their opposition to the Governance Law passed last March that raised the electoral threshold — the minimum number of votes a party must win to enter parliament — from two percent to 3.25%, claiming the bill was meant to lead to their removal from the Knesset.

Balad, Hadash and Ra’am-Ta’al won 2.56%, 2.99% and 3.65% respectively in the last elections. Without a dramatic change in Arab political organization, or unless they unify in a single party, they are not likely to survive the next election.

“Lately, there’s been an uptick of incidents that indicate the rules of the game have changed,” said Balad party chief Jamal Zahalka before the opening session. “The electoral threshold was increased in order to block Arab parties from entering the Knesset in the next elections, MK Hanin Zoabi [Balad] was suspended from the Knesset due to an unprecedented decision, an MK was beaten at a demonstration. There’s an incitement campaign against Arab MKs that is only growing more vicious and harmful,” he was quoted by Channel 2 as saying.

In July, Zoabi was suspended for six months in the wake of a criminal investigation was launched against her following remarks she made asserting that the killers of three Israeli teens in June were not terrorists. She was also under investigation for accosting a police officer in Nazareth.

That same month, both Zoabi and Zahalka participated in a protest in Haifa against Operation Protective Edge which became violent. Zoabi was handcuffed for unruly behavior at the demonstration while Zahalka was injured following a scuffle.

“The day is approaching when Arab MKs will think there is no use participating in the political sphere. We are discovering more and more that we are personae non gratae at the Knesset,” said Bassal Gatas, also from Balad.

“Those who suspended me want ‘good Arabs,'” Zoabi said. “We will be ‘good Arabs’ to our people and loyal to our values. MKs who stand up against racism are considered exemplary. The left, which sees the rights of Arabs being trampled, stays silent. It’s crazy to turn every argument into a crime or [a reason to go to the] Ethics Committee. We came to debate and fight, not to be nice and find favor.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman welcomed the Arab MKs’ pledge to boycott the opening meeting of the Knesset, taking to Facebook to say that he hoped his colleagues would “carry out this ‘threat’ as soon as possible.”

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