Controversial Arab MK appeals suspension from Knesset

Hanin Zoabi won’t take back inflammatory statements made over summer, says Israeli parliament bows to ‘fascists and racists’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi holds a press conference in the Knesset. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi holds a press conference in the Knesset. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israeli Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi petitioned the High Court of Justice on Tuesday against a Knesset Ethics Committee decision to ban her for six months from parliament debates because she declared that the Palestinian kidnappers of three Israeli teenagers were not terrorists.

Zoabi, a member of the Balad party, said in a statement that she was asking for the decision, made in July, to be annulled on the grounds that the committee had overstepped its authority in punishing an MK for expressing a political opinion that did not violate the ethical rules of the Knesset.

The petition was filed on behalf of Zoabi by the Arab rights organization Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and also included a list of what she claimed where racial outbursts by other MKs that the Knesset had ignored and that went unpunished.

“The Ethics Committee decision is a mark of Cain on the forehead of the committee and the entire Knesset.” Zoabi said in a statement Tuesday. “I am not the one being reviewed but rather the whole Knesset, which made an anti-democratic, capricious and vengeful decision, and the legal system need to decide whether to erase this mark of Cain or leave it.

“The decision to remove me from Knesset debates is an expression of the tyranny of the majority, and part of a murky, anti-democratic current that has included attacks on the legal system, and wild incitement against Arabs and against the Arab leadership in Israel,” continued Zoabi, who hails from the northern town of Nazareth. “The committee has made a mockery of the very foundation of parliament since parliament is not meant to serve the aggressive majority, but rather all citizens.”

Zoabi has also appealed for help from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of parliaments that promotes democratic values. She said that the IPU had shown interest in her case, asked for more details about the matter, and may also ask her to appear in person to give testimony. The MK noted that she was also seeking support from other, unspecified international bodies.

Zoabi claimed that her daily presence in the Israeli parliament was blighted by the bigoted views of other MKs.

“Every day I am forced to deal with representatives of war-mongering fascists and racists, who are the ones who lay down the rules of the game and marginalize those who speak for democracy and human rights,” she said.

Following the abduction of Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Gil-ad Shaar, 16; and Eyal Yifrach, 19, on June 12, suspicions quickly pointed toward Hamas operatives as being behind the attack. At the time Zoabi said that the kidnappers “are not terrorists.”

The abduction set off a search operation in the West Bank as well as a crackdown on the Hamas organization. The bodies of the three teens were found in a shallow grave near Hebron on June 30, where they had apparently been since shortly after the auction.

The killings sparked a summer of rising tensions that climaxed with Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in and around the Gaza Strip. In the interim, an Arab Israeli teenager from East Jerusalem, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, was killed in an apparent revenge attack by alleged Jewish extremists, punctuating a nadir in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

In August police police recommended that Zoabi be put on trial for incitement, threats and maligning a civil servant after a month earlier two policemen, themselves Arabs, 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 that “they should be used to wipe the floor.”

Zoabi also angered right-wing lawmakers who said articles she published during Operation Protective Edge constituted advice to Hamas on how to defeat Israel.

“The Israelis want a short campaign, the civilian population cannot stomach a prolonged conflict and there are many surprises, not only on the military level but also with regard to the number and range of the rockets,” she wrote in an op-ed for Felesteen, an Arab-language publication. “We must declare popular resistance instead of security coordination, besiege ‘Israel’ instead of negotiating with it and unite instead of splinter.”

In the article, the Jewish state’s name appeared in quotation marks — a style used by some Arab writers to refer to Israel without implying recognition of its legitimacy.

In her statement Tuesday, Zoabi stressed that she would not take back her remarks or amend her basic objection to an Israeli narrative that treated the Palestinian struggle for independence as terrorism. Likewise, the MK said, she would not cease to support the Palestinian right to fight against occupation.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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