Coalition may swap MK suspension bill for law to oust just Zoabi
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Coalition may swap MK suspension bill for law to oust just Zoabi

Netanyahu authorizes MK David Bitan to evaluate proposal to boot controversial Arab lawmaker from Knesset

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Joint List party member Hanin Zoabi is removed by Knesset security during her speech at a plenum session in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Joint List party member Hanin Zoabi is removed by Knesset security during her speech at a plenum session in the Knesset on February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A bill that would give lawmakers the ability to vote to suspend colleagues from the Knesset for certain transgressions may be shelved in favor of another proposal that would expel just controversial Arab MK Hanin Zoabi from the parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized coalition chairman David Bitan to examine the possibility of advancing a bill to oust Zoabi, a firebrand in the Joint (Arab) List faction from the Knesset — in lieu of the controversial MK suspension bill, a spokesperson for Bitan confirmed to The Times of Israel on Monday.

While the MK suspension bill, in its current formulation, would allow lawmakers merely to suspend their colleagues (though the suspension could last through the end of the Knesset term), the Zoabi bill would apparently force her out of Israel’s parliament permanently.

The proposed legislation against Zoabi came as a committee meeting to approve the final text of the suspension bill for its second and third readings in the Knesset was canceled abruptly on Monday morning.

Bitan’s spokesperson and the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee maintained that the cancellation was not due to the possible new bill, but rather the meeting was called off at the request of Muslim lawmakers marking the end of the month-long Ramadan holiday.

Scrapping the MK suspension bill and replacing it with a proposal to boot Zoabi would require the backing of all the coalition parties, Bitan’s spokesperson added. If approved, the measure would likely also be brought to the High Court of Justice.

The MK suspension bill was originally proposed after three Arab MKs — including Zoabi — made a condolence visit to the families of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis, and the three observed a moment of silence, which some said was tantamount to showing support for terror.

The three lawmakers were suspended on February 8 by the Knesset Ethics Committee — Zoabi and Basel Ghattas for four months, and Jamal Zahalka for two.

The MK suspension bill has seen some internal coalition opposition, as well as by President Reuven Rivlin, who warned in February that the power to punish lawmakers should not be in the hands of fellow Knesset members. Joint (Arab) List chairman Ayman Odeh has threatened to quit the Knesset if the bill passes into law.

Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan on January 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan on January 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Always a controversial figure, Zoabi raised hackles again in the Knesset last week when she branded Israeli soldiers “murderers” and demanded they apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, in which she participated. The ensuing bedlam in the Knesset nearly devolved into blows and Knesset members angrily approached the podium and were restrained by security detail.

Sixty Knesset members filed an ethics complaint against Zoabi, and Netanyahu turned to Israel’s top law enforcement official in a bid to oust her from the Knesset.

“I spoke with the attorney general [Avichai Mandelblit] this evening in order to explore ways to expel Hanin Zoabi from the Knesset,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday night.

In his Wednesday statement, Netanyahu said, “in her actions and her lies, [Zoabi] has crossed all red lines and there is no place for her in the Knesset.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday evening branded Zoabi a terrorist, writing on Facebook that “IDF soldiers will continue to fight against terrorists on sea, air and land — and that includes terrorists traveling at sea who are members of Knesset.”

Joint (Arab) List MK Hanin Zoabi, center, confronted by fellow lawmakers in the Knesset plenum over her comments on the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement on June 29, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)
Joint (Arab) List MK Hanin Zoabi, center, confronted by fellow lawmakers in the Knesset plenum over her comments on the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement on June 29, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)

Zoabi’s latest comments came a day after Israel signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey to restore ties, after years of frosty relations exacerbated by the raid. The deal provides for Israel to pay Turkey $20 million compensation over the Marmara raid, a point objected to by some Israeli politicians.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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