Former MK Hanin Zoabi, 12 others convicted in Balad party fraud scandal

Defendants, including party officials, admit to charges as part of plea bargain; will get suspended sentences, fines and community service

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)

Former Knesset member Hanin Zoabi and 12 others tied to the Balad party, including senior officials, were convicted Monday at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on forgery and fraud offenses in the party’s financial irregularities scandal.

As part of the plea deal, the officials confessed to the crimes and are expected to receive sentences ranging from community service to suspended prison sentences and fines ranging from NIS 25,000 to 75,000 ($7,700-$23,200).

The convictions pertain to financial irregularities in the party, a hardline Palestinian nationalist faction that makes up part of the Joint List alliance.

According to the indictment, Zoabi and the others were involved in the forgery of documents that were submitted to the state comptroller between 2013 and 2016. They then systematically deceived the ombudsman by misrepresenting the source of millions of shekels the party had received.

An investigation was opened in 2016 by the Lahav 433 fraud unit of the police after a state comptroller report found issues with the party’s donations and expenses.

In addition to Zoabi, 35 other people were questioned in the case.

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, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would charge Zoabi, saying that there was a “reasonable chance” of convicting Zoabi and that he was not convinced by her lawyers’ arguments for dropping the charges at a pre-indictment hearing.

Mandelblit announced that he would not indict some of the other senior Balad officials nor the party itself even though, he asserted, 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.

Zoabi was a highly unpopular figure among many Jewish Israelis 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.

Activists on the ‘Mavi Marmara’ preparing to attack IDF soldiers, May 31, 2010. (IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Zoabi had 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.

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 tried in vain to have her permanently banned from the Knesset. She stepped down as an MK shortly before she was expected to have to stand aside anyway under Balad internal regulations.

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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