Knesset panel to vote on expelling MK for smuggling phones to jailed terrorists

Knesset panel to vote on expelling MK for smuggling phones to jailed terrorists

House Committee will decide Thursday whether to boot Joint (Arab) List’s Ghattas from parliament

Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas in his office at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 3, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas in his office at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 3, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Lawmakers are set to consider expelling Arab Joint List MK Basel Ghattas from the Knesset, over suspicions that the lawmaker smuggled cellphones and other contraband into an Israeli prison.

The Knesset House Committee will debate the unprecedented move in a meeting Thursday after 71 Knesset members signed a call to remove Ghattas.

The MK has already been distanced from all parliamentary activities except for plenum votes after allegations surfaced that he smuggled cellphones to two convicted Palestinian terrorists in Ketziot Prison.

Ghattas has not been formally charged, though the Attorney General’s Office announced in early January that an indictment was being drafted.

Under a controversial new law, an MK can be expelled if at least 70 MKs call for it in writing, the House Committee approves it with a three-quarter majority, and 90 of the parliament’s 120 MKs then vote for it in a formal plenum vote.

Even if the House Committee approves the measure, it will require the support of the opposition Zionist Union party for the removal of Ghattas to pass the Knesset vote.

In January the Zionist Union sent a letter to the Joint (Arab) List urging the party to expel Ghattas and avoid his expulsion. The party said it “does not support the principle of the MK expulsion law, since MKs don’t need to kick out other MKs on their own — but the Joint List needs to work to fire Ghattas from the Knesset in light of the grave suspicions against him — or the Zionist Union will allow its members to vote as they please.”

The Joint List, which is also in the opposition, rejected the letter and called on lawmakers to oppose the use of the “anti-democratic” expulsion law.

The call to start the process was initiated by Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud).

Police suspect that Ghattas exploited his position as a member of Knesset, who cannot be subjected to a body search, during a visit to Ketziot prison 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 has consistently denied the allegations against him, but has had to contend with video footage that appears to show him smuggling the cellphones into the prison.

In January, police claimed that, ahead of the visit, Ghattas planned with Daka’s 65-year-old brother Assad to hand over cellphones to Bezre, who was to then pass them on to the incarcerated Daka and other prisoners. Assad Daka allegedly met with Ghattas at a gas station where he handed over four envelopes containing a dozen phones, SIM cards and chargers.

Should Ghattas be expelled, the next candidate from the Joint List would take his place. According to the Central Elections Committee, the next name on the list is Juma Azbarga, a resident of the Bedouin town of Lakiya, near Beersheba in Israel’s south.

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