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Joint List head said to seek MKs’ help to ‘be rid’ of Zoabi

Ayman Odeh tells ‘senior lawmaker’ that controversial Arab legislator is damaging to his party, Channel 2 TV reports

Arab-Israeli parliament member Hanin Zoabi accompanied by Ayman Odeh (L) and MK Jamal Zahalka seen in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem where she appealed a decision by the Central Election Committee to disqualify her from running in the upcoming Israeli elections, February 17, 2015 (David Vaaknin/Flash90)
Arab-Israeli parliament member Hanin Zoabi accompanied by Ayman Odeh (L) and MK Jamal Zahalka seen in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem where she appealed a decision by the Central Election Committee to disqualify her from running in the upcoming Israeli elections, February 17, 2015 (David Vaaknin/Flash90)

The head of the Joint (Arab) List, MK Ayman Odeh, is said to have approached a “senior Knesset member” this week for advice on how to “be rid” of controversial Arab MK Hanin Zoabi from his party and from the parliament.

According to a report on Channel 2 TV, Odeh told the unnamed senior MK that Zoabi — who stirred renewed controversy last week when she called Israeli soldiers “murderers,” causing a near-riot in the Knesset — was damaging to the party, its message and the issues it champions.

Odeh reportedly criticized the 2014 governance law — raising the minimum threshold for a party to enter the Knesset to 3.25 percent of the popular vote, up from the previous 2% — which, he said, was the reason Zoabi was in the current Knesset in the first place.

The law, which came into effect in last year’s national elections, prevents a party from entering the Knesset with fewer than four seats. The move was seen by analysts as targeting, among others, the Arab parties — none of which would have cleared the 3.25% threshold on its own. They were forced to seek a merger and formed the Joint List, made up of Hadash, the United Arab List, Ta’al and Balad to which Zoabi originally belonged.

Odeh reportedly said Zoabi would not have had a seat had the parties not been forced to unite, given her unpopularity with voters.

Always a controversial figure, Zoabi raised hackles in the Knesset last week when she branded Israeli soldiers “murderers” and demanded they apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, in which she participated. The ensuing bedlam in the Knesset nearly devolved into blows; Knesset members angrily approached the podium and were restrained by security detail.

Joint (Arab) List MK Hanin Zoabi, center, confronted by fellow lawmakers in the Knesset plenum over her comments on the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement on June 29, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)
Joint (Arab) List MK Hanin Zoabi, center, confronted by fellow lawmakers in the Knesset plenum over her comments on the Israel-Turkey reconciliation agreement on June 29, 2016 (screen capture: Knesset Channel)

Zoabi is the reason a suggested bill that would give lawmakers the ability to vote to suspend colleagues from the Knesset for certain transgressions may be shelved in favor of another proposal that would expel just her.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized coalition chairman David Bitan earlier this week to examine the possibility of advancing the bill to oust Zoabi, in lieu of the controversial MK suspension bill

While the MK suspension bill, in its current formulation, would allow lawmakers merely to suspend their colleagues (though the suspension could last through the end of the Knesset term), the Zoabi bill would apparently force her out of Israel’s parliament permanently.

The proposed legislation against Zoabi came as a committee meeting to approve the final text of the suspension bill for its second and third readings in the Knesset was canceled abruptly on Monday morning.

Bitan’s spokesperson and the Knesset’s Constitution, Justice and Law Committee maintained that the cancellation was not due to the possible new bill, but rather the meeting was called off at the request of Muslim lawmakers marking the end of the month-long Ramadan holiday.

Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan on January 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan on January 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Scrapping the MK suspension bill and replacing it with a proposal to boot Zoabi would require the backing of all the coalition parties, Bitan’s spokesperson added. If approved, the measure would likely also be brought to the High Court of Justice.

The MK suspension bill was originally proposed after three Arab MKs — including Zoabi — made a condolence visit to the families of Palestinians killed while attacking Israelis, and the three observed a moment of silence, which some said was tantamount to showing support for terror.

The three lawmakers were suspended on February 8 by the Knesset Ethics Committee — Zoabi and Basel Ghattas for four months, and Jamal Zahalka for two.

The MK suspension bill has seen some internal coalition opposition, as well as by President Reuven Rivlin, who warned in February that the power to punish lawmakers should not be in the hands of fellow Knesset members.

Odeh had threatened to quit the Knesset if the bill passes into law.

Zoabi’s latest comments came a day after Israel signed a reconciliation deal with Turkey to restore ties, after years of frosty relations exacerbated by the raid. Part of the deal provides for Israel to pay Turkey $20 million compensation over the Marmara raid, a point objected to by some Israeli politicians.

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