Sailed on Marmara, called troops who halted it 'murderers'

Arab MK Zoabi, who called for dissolution of Israel, says won’t seek reelection

After 10 stormy years in the Knesset, Joint List lawmaker acknowledges many hate her and her beliefs; forced to step down by her own party’s regulations

Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset on December 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hanin Zoabi of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset on December 22, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Controversial veteran Arab lawmaker Hanin Zoabi, who called for the dissolution of the state of Israel and sailed on the Mavi Marmara in bid to break Israel’s security blockade of Gaza, said Saturday she will not seek reelection in April’s Knesset vote.

“After 10 full years, I thank everyone and I feel that the time has come to change the location, but not the way,” MK Zoabi, a member of the Balad part in the Joint List Knesset alliance, said in a statement.

Zoabi said she would continue to work for the things she believes in, stating she would “strengthen Balad’s model for a stronger Palestinian generation and a more determined struggle, with a belief that justice will be done.”

“This is a moment when it is customary to conclude a period of self-examination and look into the future. I will not give myself a grade,” she said. “There were those who appreciated and even supported my actions and what I represented, and there were many more who hated and fought against me and my views.”

Joint (Arab) List party member Hanin Zoabi is removed by Knesset security from the plenum session after refusing to leave the podium, February 8, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The announcement by Zoabi came as no great surprise, since it was widely believed she would be required to step down due to internal Balad regulations.

Zoabi has raised fury in the past with comments in support of the Gaza terror group Hamas, her labeling of IDF soldiers as “murderers” and other similar rhetoric.

Footage taken from Mavi Marmara security cameras, showing the activists onboard as they prepare to attack incoming IDF soldiers on May 31, 2010 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
Footage from the Mavi Marmara security cameras shows the activists on board as they prepare to attack incoming IDF soldiers on May 31, 2010. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

She participated in the 2010 bid by a convoy of vessels, including the Mavi Marmara, that sought to break the Israeli security blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, vowed to participate in future such efforts, and called the Israeli soldiers who blocked the flotilla “murderers.” Ten activists were killed in violence aboard the Marmara when they attacked Israeli troops who boarded the vessel. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.

MK Hanin Zoabi (c) and Parliament member Jamal Zahalka (L) at the High Court of Justice courtroom for Zoabi’s 2012 appeal against disqualification for upcoming elections due to her participation in the Turkish IHH flotilla (May 2010) aboard the Mavi Marmara. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )

In April 2018, Zoabi called for the State of Israel to be dissolved and replaced with either two states — one secular and one Palestinian, or one binational secular state.

In May 2018, she was disciplined by the Ethics Committee when it slapped her with a one-week ban for accusing Israeli soldiers of “murdering” Palestinians.

In July 2014, the committee banned her for six months after she said that the killers of three Israeli teens were not terrorists. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal to overturn the suspension.

Right-wing lawmakers have long called for her to be permanently banned from the Knesset over her incendiary comments about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Avigdor Liberman enters a Jerusalem press conference to announce his resignation as defense minister, November 14, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last October, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman was reprimanded for calling Zoabi a “terrorist” in a June 4, 2018 tweet that was part of his party’s campaign to have her expelled from the Knesset.

Zoabi complained to the Ethics Committee about the post, accusing Liberman of criminal incitement against Arab lawmakers.

In his terse response to the committee, Liberman repeated his accusation, saying he would “cut to the chase — she’s a terrorist.”

Balad, an acronym for National Democratic Assembly, has three of the 13 seats the Joint List currently holds.

The party’s Knesset members have at times been vilified as a fifth column in Israeli politics, and other lawmakers have attempted to have them banned from being able to run for Knesset.

Ahead of the 2015 elections, Balad became a part of the Joint List alliance after the raising of the electoral threshold threatened to shut out a number of small Arab parties from the Knesset.

Zoabi’s announcement came a week after Balad party head MK Jamal Zahalka announced he also would not run in the elections.

Arab List Knesset Member Jamal Zahalka at the Knesset plenum on July 18, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

“After 16 years as a Knesset member, I am proud to say we brought change,” he said in a statement.

Despite retiring from the Knesset, Zahalka said he would remain chairman of Balad and continue “to work for justice, liberty, equality, the eradication of hate and racism, as well as the end of the occupation.”

Zahalka was first elected to the Knesset in 2003 and later became the head of Balad after its leader Azmi Bishara fled Israel amid allegations he supplied intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

In December, various media outlets reported that Zahalka and Zoabi may be prevented from running again due to internal party regulations limiting the number of terms in office a member can serve — unless the party’s central committee votes to approve it.

Despite celebratory reactions by right-wing lawmakers to the report, Zoabi insisted in a statement at the time that she had not made a decision about her political future.

“There was no debate in the Balad party about my running for the next Knesset,” she wrote. “The matter is not on the agenda, it is too early to discuss the matter. Apparently, someone doesn’t want to see me in the Knesset, and started to spread rumors as part of their deceitful campaign.”

Last January police recommended fraud and other graft charges be brought against three current lawmakers from the Balad party — Zoabi, Zahalka and Juma Azbarga.

Indictments were recommended regarding donations the party received during the 2013 elections and party spending during the 2015 elections. The State Prosecution has yet to rule on the matter.

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