Knesset votes to punish Arab MK over plans to join Gaza flotilla
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Knesset votes to punish Arab MK over plans to join Gaza flotilla

Brouhaha in parliament as lawmakers trade barbs over decision to penalize Joint List lawmaker seeking to defy Israel’s blockade

Arab Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Arab Israeli parliament member MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List in the Knesset, February 12, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Knesset House Committee voted Tuesday to strip an Arab lawmaker of his immunity from prosecution over his plans to join a protest flotilla to the Gaza Strip in the coming days.

Lawmakers voted 10 in favor, two against to strip Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas of some parliamentary privileges.

Still, the committee lacks the authority to implement such a move, and the motion will now transferred for a hearing by the Knesset Ethics Committee.

The Joint List parliamentarians at the debate vowed to bring the issue before Israel’s High Court of Justice — so the actual probability of Ghattas being penalized in the near future is slim.

The navy intercepts a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2010. (photo credit: AFP/Uriel Sinai/File/Pool)
The navy intercepts a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2010. (AFP/Uriel Sinai/File/Pool)

Ghattas is currently in Greece, the final port of call for the so-called Freedom Flotilla before it heads to Gaza.

The IDF indicated it would block any attempt to reach the Hamas-controlled enclave.

Tuesday’s debate, involving Ghattas’s colleagues from the Joint List and members of the major Jewish parties, spiraled into a rambunctious shouting match over competing Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives.

Arab lawmakers defended Ghattas, whose decision to join the flotilla sparked an outcry among Jewish politicians across the political spectrum.

“If it was up to the Knesset committee, there would be no Arab Knesset members,” Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List said.

Arab Joint list candidates (from L-R) MK Jamal Zahalka, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, and MK Ahmad Tibi raise their hands at the party's headquarters in the city of Nazareth, March 17, 2015, as they react to exit polls. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Arab Joint list candidates (from L-R) MK Jamal Zahalka, Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, and MK Ahmad Tibi raise their hands at the party’s headquarters in the city of Nazareth, March 17, 2015, as they react to exit polls. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

“Every time we say something you don’t like, you tell us to go to Gaza. So now [Ghattas] is going. What more do you want? He is not [going] to negotiate with Hamas, unlike Israel [which negotiated with Hamas] during Operation Protective Edge and continuing till today,” Tibi said.

Yoav Kisch (Likud) accused Tibi of “fighting on behalf of the Palestinians,” adding that “this isn’t their parliament here. We’ll do everything to stop you.”

Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) said the flotilla was “humanitarian-political” and dismissed the debate as “unnecessary.”

“The fact that the committee is meeting today to discuss Ghattas and not Oren Hazan is pure hypocrisy,” Zahalka said, referring to a freshman Likud MK who was embroiled in a media scandal over his escapades as a casino manager in Bulgaria.

Hazan, who was present at the meeting, quipped that “the Arab MKs are a little confused, perhaps it’s because of the [Ramadan] fast,” — a comment that Joint List party head Ayman Odeh dubbed “racist,” demanding that Hazan apologize

Likud MK Oren Hazan arrives at a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on June 08, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Oren Hazan arrives at a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 8, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Respect the fast. It’s a sensitive issue [for us]. I demand you apologize. You’re insulting people for no reason,” Odeh said.

Hazan then launched into a tirade, attacking the Arab MKs and reiterating Jewish rights to Israel.

“Dear Arab Knesset members, is it not good for you here? You’re welcome to leave. The Land of Israel is for the [Jewish] people. We [the Jews] are here to stay — I’m not so sure about you, though,” Hazan said.

Roy Folkman (Kulanu) attempted to soothe tensions and noted, “We need to learn to live together and to show empathy. We can’t be arrogant toward one another. People are looking up to what goes on [here].”

Arab Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi in the Supreme Court on February 17, 2015. (photo credit: David Vaaknin/POOL/FLASH90)
Arab Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi in the Supreme Court on February 17, 2015. (David Vaaknin/Flash90/Pool)

Hanin Zoabi, who was penalized by the Knesset herself after she participated in the 2010 flotilla to Gaza from Turkey, defended Ghattas and stated that Israel’s blockade of the strip amounted to “war crimes.”

“In Gaza, an entire generation hasn’t left and doesn’t know anything else. That’s what we call a war crime,” Zoabi said.

Sharon Gal (Yisrael Beytenu) and Anat Berk (Likud) managed to find the lighter side of the debate.

“If they let the flotilla into Gaza, Ghattas will be the first to jump [and seek rescue] from our Navy,” Gal said, after which Berko, whose husband is an expert on Arab affairs, quipped “Ghattas mean ‘diver’ in Arabic.”

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