High Court rejects bid to quash Ghattas plea deal
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High Court rejects bid to quash Ghattas plea deal

Right-wing extremists fail to block plea bargain signed with Arab ex-MK accused of smuggling cellphones to terrorists

Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas attends a press conference together with other members of the Balad Party in Nazareth, northern Israel, on March 17, 2017. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90
Former Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas attends a press conference together with other members of the Balad Party in Nazareth, northern Israel, on March 17, 2017. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90

The High Court on Wednesday threw out a right-wing petition to scrap a plea deal struck with former lawmaker Basel Ghattas, who stands accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.

Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List resigned from the Knesset Sunday as part of the plea deal that will see him face two years in prison. He is slated to enter his plea later Wednesday at the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court.

The petition to block the deal was submitted by four extreme right-wing activists; former Knesset member Michael Ben Ari, Bentzi Gopstein, founder of the Lehava anti-assimilation organization, Baruch Marzel and attorney Itamar Ben Gvir.

Judge Menachem Mazuz said he found no reason to accept the petition.

Benzi Gopstein (C), Michael Ben-Ari (L) and Itamar Ben Gvir seen outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City on October 30, 2014. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Benzi Gopstein (C), Michael Ben-Ari (L) and Itamar Ben Gvir seen outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on October 30, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prosecutors on Friday filed an indictment in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court against Ghattas, formally charging him with smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.

The charges came a day after Ghattas signed the deal with the state in which he agreed to resign from the Knesset and serve two years in return for the state dropping more serious charges of aiding the enemy and being an accomplice to terror.

Speaking at a press conference in Nazareth Friday after the charges were filed, Ghattas said he had been unfairly persecuted because he was an Arab lawmaker.

Israeli authorities “crossed a series of red lines because I am an Arab MK,” Ghattas said. “You all know that there have been investigations against other lawmakers, ministers and prime ministers, the president and senior army officers, who were suspected of far more serious crimes, and none of them was arrested or had their (parliamentary) immunity revoked.”

Ghattas said everything he did was driven by personal reasons of conscience and humanitarian feelings toward the prisoners, adding that he had decided to take the deal after “examining all his options.”

Under the plea, lawyers for both sides will request a jail term of two years and the prosecution will ask that Ghattas be fined.

Supreme Court judge Menachem (Meni) Mazuz, seen at the hearing of Israeli businessman Jacky ben Zaken‘s appeal on manipulating the share price of Financial Levers, July 14, 2016. Photo by Flash90
Supreme Court judge Menachem (Meni) Mazuz, seen at the hearing of Israeli businessman Jacky ben Zaken‘s appeal on manipulating the share price of Financial Levers, July 14, 2016. (Flash90)

The court will be left to decide on the length of an additional, suspended sentence, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

Prosecutors will also ask for the offenses to be branded moral turpitude, which, under law, triggers a ban from public office for seven years.

Ghattas’s resignation puts an end to efforts by lawmakers to oust him from the parliament by using the MK Impeachment Law. The newly passed legislation allows for MKs to expel a colleague for “supporting a terror group’s armed struggle against the State of Israel.” The Knesset House Committee was due to vote Monday on sending the motion to the plenary for a final vote.

Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in an Israeli prison. (Screen capture: Channel 10)
Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in an Israeli prison. (Screen capture: Channel 10)

Ghattas was under criminal investigation after being caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to Palestinian security prisoners in January.

Police said that the MK exploited his position as a member of Knesset — who cannot be subjected to a body search — during a visit to Ketziot Prison in southern Israel last year, where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.

Ghattas consistently denied the allegations against him, but had to contend with video footage that appeared to show him smuggling the cellphones into the prison.

He was released to house arrest in January, five days after he was arrested. When that ended, he was still barred from all parliamentary activities except for plenum votes.

On Tuesday, Balad Party member Juma Azbarga was sworn in to the Knesset to fill the empty seat left by Ghattas,

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