Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak announced on Saturday night that he had reinstated an aide suspended last week after she took photos with Ekrima Sa’id Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine who has expressed support for suicide bombings.
Ben-Barak, a former deputy head of Mossad who serves as the head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that after clarifying the details of the incident, he had decided to allow Linir Abu Hazaz to continue to work for him in Israel’s parliament.
During an interview with Channel 12 news, Ben-Barak explained how Abu Hazaz came to be photographed with Sabri, saying reports she met him as part of an official forum were false.
“My assistant, a religious Muslim who prays at the Al-Aqsa Mosque sometimes, was doing a course to be a guide at the mosque. At the end of the course, various people there met with them, and she was photographed with one of them,” Ben-Barak said, adding that he had suspended Abu Hazaz while he looked into the incident.
“I investigated it, including speaking with the Knesset Guard and with Shin Bet personnel, and I decided to bring her back to work,” he said. “The mistake is that I did not know about it in advance, and I think she was wrong in her judgment.”
Sabri was removed from his post as Grand Mufti in 2006 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after a controversial career, including support for suicide bombers and Holocaust denial. He defended violence against Jews at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount site as “legitimate self-defense,” in an interview with The Times of Israel in 2015.
In May last year, he was arrested and barred temporarily from the Temple Mount for alleged incitement against Israeli forces there.
In his role as chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Ben-Barak has advocated designating the extremist Jewish Lehava group as a terror organization over its incitement to racism and violence.
Responding to the decision to reinstate Abu Hazaz, Likud MK Miri Regev, who clashed with Ben-Barak last week, said the Yesh Atid MK must “immediately fire this dangerous aide before anything bad happens.”
“We can’t let her be exposed to security information that endangers IDF soldiers in the morning and then drink coffee with supporters of terrorism and martyrs in the evening,” Regev said in a statement.
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir from the Religious Zionism party said in a statement that Ben-Barak’s decision “harms state security.”
“Bringing someone into the Knesset who has had ties with terrorists is a misstep that could have a high price, and we may have already paid for it,” Ben Gvir said.
Prior to his political career, ultra-nationalist Ben Gvir was a lawyer with a practice representing Jewish terror suspects. He notoriously had a photograph of Jewish mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of the 1994 massacre in Hebron of 29 Muslim worshipers, hanging in his living room, and has expressed support for “price tag” attacks on Palestinians and IDF soldiers by Jewish extremists.