Former MK Hanin Zoabi, 12 others indicted in Balad fraud scandal

13 defendants expected to admit to charges as part of plea bargain, receive suspended sentences, fines and community service

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

Indictments were filed Wednesday against former Knesset member Hanin Zoabi and 12 others tied to the Arab Balad party for forgery and fraud offenses, as part of the party’s financial irregularities scandal.

State prosecutors said the indictments were part of a plea deal that will see the suspects confess to the crimes and receive sentences ranging from community service to suspended prison sentences and fines of tens of thousands of shekels.

The allegations pertain to financial irregularities in the party, a hardline 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.

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

In April, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would charge Zoabi.

“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 a public interest in putting 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 for dropping the charges at a pre-indictment hearing.

Mandelblit announced that he would not indict other senior Balad officials 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.

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/File)

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 cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners.

Zoabi was a highly unpopular figure among 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, several days after fellow party member Zahalka said he would not 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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