Firebrand former MK Hanin Zoabi to be charged with fraud over party finances

AG says he won’t indict other senior officials in Balad party, despite believing they’re guilty, due to the potential harm to its supporters

Joint List party member MK Hanin Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on July 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
Joint List party member MK Hanin Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on July 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to indict former Knesset member Hanin Zoabi of the Arab Balad party on fraud charges, his office announced Tuesday.

The allegations pertain to financial irregularities in the party, a hard-line Palestinian nationalist faction that makes up part of the Joint List alliance.

Zoabi is accused of forging documents that were submitted to the State Comptroller between 2013 and 2016. She is suspected of systematically deceiving the ombudsman by misrepresenting the source of millions of shekels the party had received.

Besides Zoabi, 35 other people were questioned in the case.

“After considering the substance of the claims at the hearing and the legal opinion presented to me, I reached the general conclusion that there is an evidentiary basis and public interest to put Mrs. Zoabi on trial,” Mandelblit said in a statement.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

He said there was a “reasonable chance” of convicting Zoabi and that he was not convinced by her lawyers’ arguments to drop the charges at a pre-indictment hearing.

Mandelblit announced he would not indict other senior Balad officials, despite asserting the evidence indicated they were guilty and that there were legal grounds to file criminal charges against a political party.

“The possible harm of putting a party on trial is expected to not only harm its current leadership or founders or owners, but also a wider circle of citizens who have an attachment to the party and identify with its goals and public positions,” he explained.

The legal team representing Balad cheered the decision not to charge the party.

“Our stance concerning the Balad party was heard during two hearings and was accepted in full by the attorney general. The decision not to file a precedential indictment against a party is an important milestone and prevents a historic legal distortion,” the lawyers said in a statement.

Concerning Zoabi, the attorneys said they were holding hearings and negotiations with prosecutors and that nothing in Mandelblit’s decision changed this.

Former Balad party MKs Hanin Zoabi, right, and Jamal Zahalka, center, at the court hearing of fellow faction member MK Basel Ghattas at the Rehovot Magistrate’s Court, January 5, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

In January 2018, police recommended criminal charges against MKs Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, and Juma Azbarga regarding donations Balad received during the 2013 elections, as well as party spending during the 2015 elections.

At the time, suspected lawmakers were all questioned, as was former Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who was serving two years in prison for smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian security prisoners.

Zoabi was a highly unpopular figure in Israel after she called for the dissolution of the State of Israel, labeled Israeli soldiers “murderers,” and sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

She announced her departure from political life in January 2019 to the cheers of Jewish lawmakers, several days after fellow party member Zahalka said he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Balad, which advocates for a binational state for Palestinians and Israelis, has been dogged by controversy. Party founder Azmi Bishara fled Israel in 2007 after being accused of passing secrets to the Hezbollah terror group.

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